Chapter 55:

Alluring Assistant

Lovely kNight


Text books lay open displaying an uncommon disarray upon the desk of a star student. The pages are revealed for a trio of tomes while the others are strewn about, covering the remaining surface that is touched by the blue hue of morning light. The charts and diagrams framed by heavy text inked onto the pages catch my eyes as I stand before them. With a simple glance away, the one who had toiled to read the books comes into view.

Huddled close, her blanket covers her body save for her red hair which peeks out as she faces away from me and towards the window. Shut away, refusing to leave her cocoon, I can only imagine that her night was fraught with tears and little relief. Inside I contort through waves of pain fearing of my own absence in those times.

I wish to wake her up. To touch her shoulder or call her name, but I restrain my will.

She’s probably exhausted. She needs every bit of sleep she can get.”

Before I leave to breakfast, I take time to clean up her desk which I’d only seen reach such a point of messiness but a couple of instances prior. The first tome is a textbook opened to lessons on concussion magic. I shut it and find its place on the shelf. The next is a sequel volume for intermediate assistance magic and what would colloquially be called ‘buffing’ spells. It goes by its previous issue.

Yet as I look to the final book left open, I pause when I read its contents.

Known Methods and Meditations for Gathering of Elemental Energies.

Long winded paragraphs going into gruesome detail of a very specific type of magic.

Charging magic.

Letting my eyes slowly roll over the contents of the page, I remember our most recent session of practice together. Then comes the momentous wound back to my memory.

Rejected from the mage knighthood. Undoubtedly her insecurities afflicting her confidence have been burning away at her from the inside out. Like a searing blaze set on the heart to ring her dry of all the cheer and joy she has within.

She’s been studying this spell archetype further. Reading and rereading tirelessly. I can judge that by the few spots where the page has warped from the presence of tears upon them. I peer back towards her and count my breaths before closing up the book and storing it on the shelf with the others.

Having replaced her collection, I step to the side of her bed and kneel. Unwilling to disturb her I can only slouch and pray earnestly for her endurance. That she can endure the pain just a little bit longer until I can make everything right.

✩ ✩ ✩

Juna is regrettably absent from the dining room once more. Every other maiden has already formed up at the table as usual. And they wait for me without a dish placed before them. Jupa herself stands aside against the kitchen door with a tray hugged against her body. The moment I enter the room, I’m immediately the center of everyone’s attention.

“Is Juna not joining us today?” Celine asks and despite how placid her expression is, with all I’ve come to know, she has a prickling in her heart just beneath the surface.

“I’d decided to let her sleep in. By the looks of it, she’d ended up neglecting sleep to burn the candle away with her studies.” Only half the story, only half the concern for everyone.

“Oh. That’s a shame to hear.” Neptanie speaks with a lightly downtrodden manner.

“I was hoping to meet with her too. I suppose my chance will come soon enough.” So comments Jupa who brushes her fingers against the lip of the tray she carries. “But now that master has arrived, it’s time for the moment you’ve all been waiting for!”

“Is there something special about today?” I ask her, perplexed.

But by the time I’ve spoken, it’s already too late for her to hear my voice. She’s already dipped into the kitchen with an eager rush.

“Dude, we’ve got a maid now. No way I’m not going to make the most of that.” Mercy chuckles while seated casually per usual.

“I hadn’t been the head chef myself today.” Informs Plutia who is seated at the head of the table. “And by her request it seems that cutie Jupa will be taking all culinary responsibilities for herself from this evening and beyond. But don’t you worry, handsome. I’ll still be doing what I can here and there and I too could prepare something special for you so long as you ask nicely and maybe kiss the cook afterwards.”

I do my best to ignore Plutia’s teasing and turn to see Venna and Marcia chatting together. Their mannerisms as they speak shows all too clearly their bond as sisters. The way they reveal their emotions so openly with the way they emote is a wonderfully charming sight.

The kitchen door swings open and the bright, sunshiny face of Jupa greets us along with the plates she expertly balances in her arms. With a gleeful and elegant sweep, she sets plate after plate onto the table and before each maiden. Every maiden is wowed upon sight of their own serving with eyes and hearts alight. Yet Jupa comes up empty handed before myself.

“I’d thought I’d prepare something special for every one of you this morning. I’ve only been able to spent such limited time with all of you so it’d have been impossible for me to do this on my own. Beauty Plutie gave me a few tips for each and every one of you. I can’t promise that it’d be like this everyday, but I hope you enjoy your meals so very much.”

She returns to the kitchen and quickly exits with one final plate carried in her hands. Stepping lightly with a hum in her voice, she places it before me. Yellow, spongy and fluffy in appearance. Oblong shaped and placed atop a helping of rice. The dish I see is entirely foreign to me. I’m left puzzled as the other maidens are as well.

“This is for me? Thank you. Though I’m not entirely sure what sort of cuisine this is.” My perplexed mind comes out in my inflection.

“I’m not sure what it’s called, but I’d seen it in this foreign book a few years ago. I couldn’t understand the language at all but the pictures were a big help in learning how to cook it. I like to call this the lovely scramble!”

“Scramble? So this is made from eggs?”

“Yes! I think it’s popular in another kingdom. There was a lot of pictures of maids in the book so it might have been a guide for maids. The restaurant was filled with them and the customers looked so happy. It was different than any other books I’ve read since it was mostly just pictures with some words in another language here and there. I guess the culture it comes from is really expressive.”

“A book filled with pictures? Are you sure that it wasn’t a comic book?” Asks Marcia.

“That does sound like a comic book.” Mercy says to herself with a click of her tongue. “I’ve read a few before. Mostly when I was lazing around waiting for customers at that horrible fruit stand. They really helped to pass the time by. There was this cool series I was kind of into. The characters had supernatural powers and went on all sorts of adventures where their souls were at risk. It was called Weapons of Dark Minds… Or at least I think it was. The translators really couldn’t make up their minds on what they’d wanted to call it.”

“Before all of the food you’ve worked so hard to prepare grows cold, we should probably start eating.” I speak. “Then if you don’t mind, I-”

“W-Wait!”

Jupa stops me from plunging my fork into her creation and sweeps a container of ketchup from the table. With a giddiness riding so high it could touch the sun, she pours out the sauce while picking up her humming tune from earlier. With quick, measured sweeps, the lines she draws converge into two curls forming the shape of an ornate and cute red heart.

Yet another moment where all the maidens speak together and bring a buzzing to the air. All attention falls on Jupa and myself as some of the others have doubtlessly seen the heart she’d drawn onto my dish.

Bringing both of her hands close to her chest, she forms a heart with her fingers to match the one on my scramble. With a wink and a kick of her heel, she announces to me with a sweet, singing voice:

“A heart just for you, master!”

She sparkles so brightly I’m nearly blinded by her bursting energy and affection. My skin begins to feel the intensity of the light she gives off. Mercy laughs loudly with her voice echoing throughout the room.

“There we go! The preparations are complete! Now you can eat to your heart’s content!”

“Th-Thanks…” I throw my eyes far from hers and make sure not to meet gazes with any other maiden present. “Was that… in the book as well?”

“I saw the maids making a pose like that after serving it in the book. I guess it’s a part of the ceremony for the meal. Though I don’t have any way of knowing what they’d said, I’d think it had to be something like that.”

The way she’d moved and chirped with cheer struck a cord with me. My heart defies me as it begins to skip and trip over itself while sprinting ahead of me. If Vestil had witnessed her little ritual, she would have fallen to her knees and pleaded that she’d become her bride on the instant.

“Isn’t that the sweetest thing?” Plutia giggles. “She really did go above and beyond for you.”

“No fair! How come I don’t get a ketchup drawing of a cardiac muscle on my food?” Mercy jests.

Everyone gets to their meal and a host of awed voices fill the air with each bite. One by one praises and compliments fly through the air and ping off the walls.

“These hotcakes are so fluffy and sweet! I had no clue something could be so soft and yet so bursting with flavor!” Celine is uncharacteristically all smiles. It seems the food’s sweet flavor has brought out the sweet side of her.

Large, moist flapjacks with a healthy helping of syrup and butter are quickly taken piece by piece by her form. They look just right to melt on the tongue. The golden brown color mixed with the lighter tan and then the darker brown of the topping makes for a pleasing monochrome color pallet.

“Plutia really paid attention. I sure do like a slab of protein in the morning. And this one is pretty tasty.” Cutting off another piece of her food, Mercy is more eager to eat than she usually is. Which is a surprise.

A steak cooked to perfection with the grill marks upon it charred a black with a reddish brown beneath the netted stripes. The lightly pinked innards are spilling with juices as the fine oils of the fats pour out with each slice. The mashed potatoes on the side are seasoned and then peppered with chives while swimming in a gravy. Not exactly breakfast, but it’s more than clear Mercy doesn’t mind that one bit.

“So many colors! So many different tastes mixing together! It’s like a rainbow sitting on my tongue! So savory, I can barely get enough!”

The salad before Venna is truly an arrangement of colors. Delectable fruits, leafy greens and a dressing with oil that saturates all of it evenly and yet so minutely to serve as a tease, it easily goads the desires of the pallet to rise and take even in a chase to capture the subtle flavor.

“Mercy’s right. Seems like Ms. Mystery has kept good track of things. I never knew anything could be so perfectly spiced. And what a wild turn of events that I’d get to have a maid cook for me. If this is what it’s like to have a maid tend to me, then I never want to go back to the way things were!”

Marcia’s plate is filled with a hearty curry filled with vegetables and pieces of meat. Just by looking at the firm, roasted pepper set atop I can only fathom the flame that basks itself in its thick and creamy sauce. The rice aside and topped by the curry is moist and sticky; perfect to snag a forkful.

“Mine is so warm and gentle. It makes me want to dream a little bit longer, but I want to stay up and eat all that I can of it. What do I do?” Neptanie praises Jupa although seeming to be conflicted at the same time.

A bowl full of porridge with a leaf to garnish. Simple, traditional, easy to prepare. Yet even if it is such an ordinary, time tested dish it’s clear to tell that Jupa had put her best efforts into even it. A sweet, mellow seasoning sprinkled within to make it look cute and delectable. Neptanie takes spoons of it and finds herself swaying between dream and reality. She glows with a humble joy like a child savoring their own mother’s cooking.

“With such professional skill as this, I have no qualms left stepping down from my high horse as the chef of this manor. You’ve done even more wonderfully than I could have anticipated. Our cute new friend certainly lives up to the standard of a noble’s own hand selected maid.” Plutia is positively pleased with her successor’s handiwork.

A glass of dark, refreshing grape juice serves as her beverage. A freshly baked golden scone placed beside a set of perfectly prepared eggs. There at the side is a cup of rich yogurt. The perfect, light meal to get one started for a busy day of work and keep them from being weighed down.

Despite that every maiden is enamored with their meal, my curiosity has lead me to accidentally hold off on trying my own. I realize that as I spot Jupa who eagerly waits for me. Her expression is shy and filled with anticipation in their chartreuse depths. She fidgets about and her body language speaks volumes alone.

“Seems that everyone’s excitement got me a little distracted. It’s a bit uncharacteristic to forget all about mine after you’d gone through so much effort for it.”

She shakes her head to disagree and simply continues waiting for my first bite. So I take up my fork and press it through the scramble. It goes through with an extraordinary ease all the way to the rice laying beneath. I bring it to my mouth and take it in.

At once like a shooting star shining through the sky, my senses are taken on a journey to the horizons.

Soft, salty mixing with sweet in a duet unlike any else I’ve experienced before. Though it’s simple, it’s done deceptively so. Whether or not the recipe Jupa gleaned from the book is correct doesn’t matter. Whatever this creation is stands on its own as a wonderful appeal to the senses. The rice is extraordinarily soft and it melts in my mouth, leaving behind a savory, sweet taste that is complimented by the scramble.

“This… This is incredible.”

“Really? That means the world to hear! I’ve never once shared this recipe with anyone else! I was worried it might not be to your tastes or maybe it wouldn’t have been done well.”

“No way! Thank you so much for this. I don’t think I’ll be able to ever forget this. I… would be fine with having it again in the future too.”

“With the ceremony included too?” She bounces on her heels, curious and filled with excitement.

“The ceremony? R-Right. I guess that is a part of the experience, so…”

“Hahaha. You liked it, didn’t you?” Mercy jabs her elbow against my ribs.

“Well, it’s just… You haven’t spent any time with Vestil that I’m unaware of, have you?”

“You don’t need to say anything. It’s pretty obvious from the look on your face you’d liked it.” Marcia joins with Mercy in her teasing.

“I wasn’t expecting you to be so easily won over by food.” And then Celine takes me by surprise in meeting with the two. Her mood still high from her own joyful meal.

“But what about you, Jupa? Aren’t you going to dine with us?” I ask our grateful chef.

“No, it’s fine. Whenever I cook I have a habit of eating while I work. I’ve already had enough, so I’ll be waiting to collect the dishes.”

“That’s a shame. It’d be nice if you could join us. With how amazing your culinary talents are, I would expect it to be a treat to have it yourself as well.”

“You’ve all really enjoyed it that much?”

In response, every single person in the room raises their voice to her in praise and gratitude. Jupa is overwhelmed with joy to the brink of tears. She bows to us and squeaks out a meek response.

“Thank you all. I promise that I’ll continue doing my best!”

So our meal carries on every bit as magnificent from start to finish. All the maidens converse and I join with them. Yet there is something important missing. It keeps the moment from being perfection. I look to the chair opened to my right and feel a pit of grief inside seeing it’s vacant of the one whose face fills my thoughts and prayers.

✩ ✩ ✩

The very moment any member would finish their meal, Jupa would be quick and vigilant to inquire if we would desire anything more. Though everyone was sated and content with what they’d had to dine on. She took every dish as it was finished and collected them together to wash.

Keeping to our arrangements agreed upon yesterday, I ask Mercy for a moment longer before she and I would be out to exercise together. She obliges with a proud thumbs up.

I enter into the kitchen with Jupa. She makes herself busy with the keeping the dishes. Against all expectations of the sheer amount of time and wares it would have taken to prepare such a unique feast, the entire place is already spotless.

“Jupa. Thanks again for everything. I couldn’t imagine the trouble it must have been to put everything together for us.”

“Master!” She’s luminously cheerful. “It’s my pleasure and honor. That you’d all enjoyed it as much as you had was nothing but joy for my heart. Is there anything else I can help you with, master?”

“There is one thing I was curious about.” I step to her side and, although tempted to help her with the dishes, stop myself while imagining she would have none of it. “About Juna. I know she wasn’t there today, but was there something you’d prepared for her?”

“Of course! I couldn’t ever forget someone so special to master and someone I’ve promised to take care of! I’ve heard more than anything how much her heart has been aching lately, so I’d put together a soup for her. When I would be sick or sad when I was small, my mother would always prepare a special meal for me. A family recipe that was filled with the most important and secret ingredient.”

“That’s a relief to hear. With how she’s been lately, I’m worried that she hasn’t been eating properly. Back when we were in academy she would often forget to eat as she’’d gotten herself held up with studying. I would expect that this time would be worse than any other time in the past.”

“Once I’m finished with what’s left for the dishes, I’ll be taking a bowl up to her as quickly as I can. I was hoping today would be the day I’d meet her alongside everyone else, but I suppose my time will be more private. I’d love to meet the one that’s so special to my master.”

“Well… Thank you.” I’m brought to a blush and it isn’t the heat of the kitchen that’s getting to me. “I’m still not used to that name… B-But how early did you wake up to prepare everything? You had to have spent a good sum of time to get all of it arranged.”

“I’d slept soon after our talk yesterday then I’d rose before the sun and got everything on its way. I used to cook for families and companies that were filled with so many particulars with their own shares of nitpicks so I’ve become accustomed to a variety of orders. Don’t worry too much about me; I can handle it.” She speaks brightly.

“Well, I’m not all that particular myself so I can assure you that you won’t be put under any pressure like that.”

“Plutia was right about your tastes. She’d told me the secret ingredient to add to anything I’d prepare for you and it went wonderfully. I promise from today onward I’ll continue to improve and do my best.”

“A secret ingredient? What could that be? Knowing her… well… But that’s no matter, it seems she was right.”

“Do you want to know what it is? Or maybe just a tiny hint?” A star gleaming with curiosity sparkles in her eye.

“I can’t deny that you’ve piqued my interest. Maybe it was apple? I do enjoy apples.”

“Silly, how would an apple fit into a recipe with eggs?” She giggles to herself and tickles heart.

“I’ll be honest that I really haven’t the first clue what it could have been you’d added. I’ll have to wave the white flag. If you’d like to tell me, you can.”

The light clanking of dishes ceases when she finishes her final piece and places it to dry. She removes her gloves and rights herself after a job well done. With her skirt sweeping cutely as she turns, she steps closer to me and catches me off guard. I stand still even if my heart bounces in my chest. She raises to the tips of her toes and presses her lips against my cheek just like she had before I’d departed yesterday. When she stands before me and stares deeply into my eyes, she gives me the answer while a blush is drawn on her cheek.

“It’s simple. The answer is love. Food made with love is your favorite. That’s what I’d been told.”

Shocked to the point of becoming a statue. I’d never thought too deeply on it but defying expectations, I know without a shred of doubt that Plutia had pierced me dead center. While I watch Jupa coyly rocking back and forth on her heels I realize that maybe I’m a little too easy to read at times.