Still glowing hot with embarrassment, I’d taken to wandering the halls aimlessly until I could dig deep and recompose myself to seek after Neptanie. Turning another corner, my attention is ripped out of my repeating thoughts when I spot a door left slightly ajar.
“I wonder if she’s here. Come to think of it, I haven’t explored this hallway until now.”
This wing of the manor is quite a lovely sight to behold by itself. Yet with the morning sunlight peering in through the windows it’s an even warmer setting. The early sun’s glow lluminates the plush red carpeting and the art hanging upon the walls. Tables with potted flowers blooming gives the corridor a lively charm.
With curiosity having the upper hand, I quietly push open the door and peer inside. Paintings both finished and unfinished lay about. Some are hung up for display, others simply lean against the walls and each other. Art supplies are organized neatly upon a shelf and a luxurious garden window views the greenery outdoors. But the most eye catching piece to all of the room is seated at its center with a brush in hand and a canvas set on an easel before them.
Deep blue hair falling to the waist, her skin is delicate and pale. Eyes shining brightly their rich gold in the rays of the morning light. I’ve managed to find where Neptanie had scurried off to. She dabs her brush into the paint on her palette and keenly swipes it to simulate waves. With only a few flicks of her wrist, she practically breathes life into the innocent white of the canvas. Sweep by sweep, an ocean side peering to the blue skies as the waves crash upon rocks springs into existence.
“Gardening and painting? She’s quite skilled, isn’t she?”
I linger at the doorway and continue watching her work. Yet when yesterday’s incident returns to my mind, I sigh to myself and prepare to greet her properly before I can sabotage myself again. I gently close the door and give its wood a light rap.
Following the sounds of her footsteps, the door opens. Her eyes begin on my chest as she’d expected someone of a more diminutive stature. They timidly climb up to my face and her entire body shudders to a still as our eyes meet.
The door shuts left alone to the hall.
“Apologies for startling you. I was hoping to talk for a moment.” The birds chirp their merry morning melodies in place of our silence. “It’s about yesterday. I hadn’t really gotten a chance to meet with you to talk about what happened yet. Plus I haven’t had the opportunity be properly acquainted with you either.”
I sit and listen to the singing birds but begin to feel a bit disheartened. As I prepare to step on my way and speak a closing, her voice returns to me.
“You… just want to talk? A-About yesterday?”
“Yes. A whole lot happened, after all.”
The door creaks open a peek and I see her eye focusing on me. After a few seconds, she finally opens up to me all the while timidly peering down to my shoes.
✩ ✩ ✩
It’s been another spell of silence. Though she had been so busy with painting before, she now sits quietly and keeps her eyes locked to the floor. Only when I’d sat down had I realized I’d absentmindedly shut the door behind me upon entry. Sealed away with her, my nerves stand on end as I’m sure hers do as well.
“I had no clue you were an artist.” I bid to break the ice.
A nod is sent, but not a word is spoken. She grips the fabric of her skirt and shifts about in her seat.
“Though I’ve had lessons in the past, I’m nowhere near being an artist myself. It was only yesterday that I’d come to learn that Celine is involved with the arts. I take it that you two are the ones that use of this room.”
“...Yes.” A small response, but it’s a start I’m grateful for.
“Do both of you get along well?”
“We do. Sometimes we share this room together.”
“Celine would likely practice for her classes, but what about yourself?”
“...It’s a hobby of mine is all, really.”
“For being a hobby, you’re quite skilled, judging by that canvas.”
Yet again the air falls mute. Having always been in company of Juna and others more extroverted, attempting to converse with a shelled up kind of person is an entirely different story. It likely doesn’t help that I’m still shy myself, especially with new faces.
“I’ve been curious about Celine. Since you can probably tell that her and I have a bit of a... disconnect, I’m not sure how she is outside of what I’ve seen for myself.”
“...Celine is a nice woman, but she’s often very busy. I’m sure it will… be okay.”
Again she nervously shifts where she sits. With a small breath, she continues.
“S-So, what was it about yesterday you’d wanted to speak about?”
“I’d kind of let that slip now, hadn’t I? Well, it’s about the awkward situation that had transpired.”
She shyly nods her head.
“It was… really something, wasn’t it?”
“Sneaking around and hiding. I’m not sure what people would think of such actions. I can only expect it’d be frowned upon in best cases. I was hoping to get it out of the way and out into the open rather than glance over it. I’m a knight, after all, so there should be some kind of accountability.”
“I-I… You’re right...”
“Anyways, you were probably really embarrassed yourself. I was, so I could really understand your hesitation at my arrival.”
“So I guess what I mean to say is-”
“I-I’m sorry, Celestial Knight! I didn’t mean to cause such an uncomfortable situation!” Neptanie bursts out as she dives into a bow where she sits.
“H-Huh? Why are you apologizing? It was my fault and what I did wasn’t knightly in the smallest respect.”
“Th-There’s nothing unknightly about doing your duties with the maidens! The kingdom depends on it after all! And… well… I can tell that Juna is very special to you!”
“Juna? Wait. What are we talking about?”
Confusion is clear on her face as she tilts her head and watches me at a loss. I unconsciously mimic her gestures as I try my best to link up with her thoughts.
“Did Juna have something to do with what had happened in the garden?”
“Yeah. The garden. The dog ended up barking… and then...”
Before I can complete my recollection of the events, I come to realize what our confusion stems from. Stowed away in the corner of my closet, legs gathered up to herself. A person I hadn’t expected to meet.
“...You were thinking of what happened in my room.”
Neptanie palms her face and all of her body begins to shine a sharp red like molten metal.
“I-I’d forgotten all about what had happened in the garden. A-And your room… I’m so embarrassed!”
“A-Ah. No, it’s alright. Please don’t worry about that! I didn’t really mind! Sure, I was confused and still don’t quite understand what had happened, but I’d only intended to apologize for stalking you into the garden because I’d never really had the chance to yesterday! S-Stalking may have been a bad way to word it!”
Both of us are at a loss as our composure is well shattered asunder. Two doddering, hot in the face individuals tripping over themselves for the sake of the other. I take a deep breath and regain my knightly serenity before I attempt to pick it all up. Though it seems that the small breather was enough for Neptanie as well.
“Th-The garden thing… I just didn’t expect to see you there so it was a surprise I wasn’t prepared for.” Her face flushes and her eyes sink back to the wooden floor below.
“I was curious. I hadn’t been able to talk with you and with how timid you seem to be, I suppose I’d let my own timidity guide my actions. So I’d followed after you hoping that I wouldn’t alarm you, but ended up doing just that.”
“It’s okay. There’s nothing wrong at all, so please don’t let that bother you.”
“O-Okay. The same goes for that other thing with my room. I’d kind of forgotten about that too.”
“I-I see. I’m grateful. Thank you for… overlooking that.”
“Of course. It looks like we were kind of even anyways. I’d followed you and… well...” I nervously laugh before pushing forward. “What happened, by the way? Why were you in there? Were you in some kind of trouble?”
“I’d been on my way to my room when I’d started feeling faint.” She brings her legs in towards her chair and holds them close. “My mind was a bit foggy so I chose the nearest room I could and rested on the bed. Before you’d moved in, I’d often used that room as a place to rest and I’d forgotten that it wasn’t vacant anymore. By the time I’d woken up and started to regain myself, I’d finally realized where I was and I’d heard footsteps coming. I’d panicked and shut myself into the closet. I-I didn’t know what else to do… I…”
My laughter captures her attention as I accidentally cut her explanation short with my own giggling.
“Sorry! Sorry!” I overcome my own giggling fit. “I can tell it was a serious issue that lead you to my room, but it’s just funny that a simple bit of nerves got you locked up there.”
She remains silent, a touch taken aback. So I continue in hopes to answer any questions she may have in mind.
“There wouldn’t have been any issue at all if I’d have walked in on you laying in my bed. Juna used to do that often in the academy, so I’m well used to it. Of course if something out of the ordinary were to happen, I’m willing to talk about it. All you need to do is ask. If you ever need to use my bed, please go on ahead.”
“R-Really? I… didn’t expect you would be so relaxed about it. If that were the case, I more likely would have stayed where I was. I can understand a bit of it with your past with Juna, but why are you so accepting...?”
“Accepting of your resting in my bed?”
“Y-Yes.” She shallowly nods.
“It may come as a little surprise, but I has to do with something in my life before I’d known Juna. I’d… once known someone who was often sickly. They would be brought under a weary spell so suddenly, so quickly and they’d need to rest frequently.”
On natural impulse, my hand finds my chest to feel against the scar.
“I know that there are some who can be fairly sickly and prone to feeling faint. I’d be more than happy to let you use my bed in times such as those. I wouldn’t want you collapsing onto the hard floor or worse.”
“You’re… so kind… As I’d thought. For… all of the time I’d waited for the Celestial Knight, I’d never have guessed that they’d be…”
“What about me?”
“N-Nothing important.” She lightly shrinks into herself.
Seeing no reason to press further, I return to our previous conversation.
“That incident really explains why my closet was the tiniest bit ajar when I’d returned to my room. I was curious about that but gave it a shrug in the end since there were other things on my mind.”
“Like why you were covered in… lipstick?”
Now it’s my turn for my face to light up in our volley match of embarrassment.
“Right. You would have… seen that.” And then I fall even further when another realization hits me. “And you were there too when Juna and I… I-I see what you were talking about earlier then.”
I shake my head as if I to shake the thoughts loose and out of my head.
“It doesn’t matter! Nothing wrong, so don’t mind it!”
She nods her head strongly in agreement and the two of us call it good to hang up that conversation.
“But I feel I should apologize for something else as well.”
“Something else? What would that be?”
“I’m sorry that I’ve been so flighty... I’m nervous.”
“That’s completely understandable with how things are. Our situation. So please, don’t mind that at all either. I was just worried that you weren’t very fond of me, but I’m glad that doesn’t seem to be the issue. I wouldn’t dream to cause you any difficulties if I can help it. I’d like for you to go at your own comfort with everything.”
As I speak, Neptanie remains muted. A hint of surprise finds its way to her expression. So I proceed.
“I’m nervous myself. I’d trained my entire life as a knight, but never once thought that the Celestial Knight would be involved with such… duties. Though I might not be as fearful as you are, I have my own apprehensions that constantly beat me upside the head. So please know that I’ll be doing my best to work together with you.”
“You’re… still so gentle.”
“Were thinking you’d be meeting some burly brute who would be as coarse as sand paper with the patience of a gnat?”
“Something like that.”
She chuckles and smiles an earnest smile for the first time in our history together. A tender, bashful smile with eyes softened from their commonly held glimmer of insecurity. For a moment I’m caught deeply in the sight before I reel myself back from my uncouth staring. With the air lightened, I take the opportunity to forge forward.
“How long have you been painting for a hobby?”
“I’ve… been an artist for most of my life. But I’m still… amateurish.” She sighs as she looks towards her painting.
I join her and admire her handiwork. The blends of colors and precise movements certainly make it difficult for me to see anything else than a lovely painting in the makes. I watch her lose a bit of the joyed glimmer in her eyes as recluses into her thoughts. As a knight and as a man, I can’t stand to see someone so downed.
“Although I’m far from your abilities as an artist, what I’m seeing is really beautiful. For whatever the opinion of a brutish knight is worth.”
I earn a small, shy smile out of her and that gives me the motivation to continue.
“Though I can understand your sentiments. I’m not the greatest knight in the kingdom or the world. Not even in history. Juna and I are still growing and learning to be the best knights that we possibly can be and that’ll take even more time and training. So while I’m working on sharpening myself up to battle in the Dark Seeds, keep up the good work in improving your art however you are capable. The moment you believe you’ll never get better and improve is the moment when that prophecy will start coming true.”
As I end my spontaneous pep talk, Neptanie is stuck in a stunned silence. She turns her mystified gaze towards me.
“Apologies. I’d gone and dispensed advice perhaps a little too quickly. But I’d just felt like saying it since that’s something I often think of as I’m training with Juna.”
“N-No. It’s nothing like that. You’re… right. Thank you for your kindness.”
“I’m glad it went over well. There are those that get irritated and indignant when hearing advice, so I wasn’t too sure if I’d stepped over the line.”
“I’ve… I’ve had difficulties believing in myself and my art at times. When compared to Celine, I’m… not that great.” She once again shyly falls into herself.
“Where is Celine’s art in this studio, anyways? I’ve been curious to see it since I’d first heard about her work.”
“I-I’ll show you.”
She raises to her feet and I follow her to a canvas laying against the wall. She lifts the painting and I take it into my hands. Black and white. The strokes are clean and balanced, forming the figure of a woman beneath the moon’s rays as she stands waist high in shimmering waters with the silhouettes of trees framing the piece. Her face is relaxed as she bathes in the lake. In the instance I’d laid my eyes on it, the picture had already made me feel restful with its calm aura.
“This is quite impressive. It’s a bit more rare to see artwork in monochrome. Usually there’s more colors used. That’s definitely my uncultured side showing clearly, isn’t it?”
“N-No! I wouldn’t say that… U-Uncultured… Celine is… very talented and skilled with her art. I have a long way to go until I’ll even be nearly as good as she is.”
I take in the sights of the canvas to their fullest while resting myself. It is a very lovely painting, however...
“From what I understand, everyone has their own style and spirit they put into their work. Juna and I have our own techniques for what we do and I’d think that extends beyond swordplay and knighthood. This is an interesting style and I quite like it, but yours has another feeling entirely that I’d enjoyed seeing more of. If I were to focus on what other knights are doing, then I’m being short sighted with myself and not seeing my full potential in who I am. I should always look at myself and my own path I’m walking, I’ve always thought.”
I peer up from the painting to see her watching me expectantly, waiting for me to continue.
“To me, life isn’t about besting others. It’s about besting yourself every day. If you keep hurting yourself and creating bad habits, saying bad things about who you are, then who can you truly best? Eventually you’ll be the words you speak. So every day when I wake up, I know I must be stronger than I was the day before. And now the entire kingdom is depending on me, so there’s no other answer but for me to become stronger.”
She’s stands stunned. Through her eyes I can see her rushing thoughts like the wind across the mills. When she notices that our eyes are bound in their gazes, she throws hers down to the floor and flushes a cute pink.
“…You truly are a knight...”
“I apologize if I can be a bit cut and dry at times. But this is what I think. Along with Juna’s support, we’ve both always worked hard to keep each other focused and as sharp as we can be. I’d learned early on that our beliefs will become our lives.”
“As you’ve probably come to notice, I… I’ve always been a fragile person. I’d become sickly almost monthly for all of my life and I’d often sleep since I’m usually easily tired. But painting and gardening have been outlets for me along with a small bit of writing. When you’re always so tired, it’s the small things that you can do to keep your motivation and spirits up.”
She sends me a frail smile and although she has cheer in herself, I can tell that there is a hint of sorrow hidden within. Seeing that sight, a peculiar sensation plays at my heart. Perhaps it can be likened to a gentle breeze flowing through my chest.
“I’ve wondered how you’ve been. This entire time that I’ve known you I’ve been curious and I’d accidentally let that curiosity get the best of me that one time. It makes a bit more sense now that you’re often alone in your room.”
“But what you’d said… I understand. I want to get better someday. With my art and… with my body. I’ll need that if I’m going to be a maiden.”
A blush slaps itself across my face as my mind wanders away. My eyes fly to Neptanie’s cute, rosy lips. Eventually I’d be close to her and to say that she didn’t need her body for her duties wouldn’t be quite right. I eventually notice my uncouth staring and wandering thoughts. I shoo them away and recompose.
“I-I mean…!” Her skin heats up to match mine.
“N-No! I understand! You’ll have to get out of your room more often and be under the sun as well! So you’ll need all the strength you can get to be a maiden!” I throw a life ring for the two of us.
“Th-That’s right! S-So I should make sure I’m in good health and work on getting better everyday!”
“Just as I was thinking! I should get started on my own for the day! I’ll leave you to practicing art. Give it your best! We’ll both need all the practice we can have! I mean-”
“R-Roger! B-Become an even stronger knight, Khiron!”
I nervously wave to her before making for a hasty exit from the art room. With the door at my back, I breathe a heavy sigh. But as the thoughts of her cute lips return, I take to jogging while swiping them from the air.