As I tried to push away the feeling, I met Ares's eyes, and somehow I felt that he knew what was running through my mind as he gave me a small smile and a nod.
Smiling back, I shook my head at him wryly as he reached out and clapped me on the shoulder, as the rest watched, puzzled.
Breaking in, Sia asked, “Mind telling me what you guys are talking about?”
Grinning, I turned back to her and said, “We were talking about gifts!”
Suddenly, Sia’s eyes turned downcast and striding over to her, I pinched her cheek as I said, “You didn’t forget, Sia! It was the Academy.”
Pushing my hand away as she grumpily looked at me, she said, “But still. That’s the first birthday that I couldn’t give you your gift.”
Turning to the others who had expressions of understanding on their faces, I said as I shrugged, “I couldn’t get you guys anything while we were escaping from… from Draconis. And the next time your birthday's rolled around, you were in the academy and I couldn’t give you your gifts.”
“But now that we’re gathered here, It’s time!” I finished as I grinned widely and held out my hand.
As a longsword appeared in it, I reversed it and passed it to Damon, hilt first, whose jaw dropped as he held it.
As he looked at me questioningly, I nodded and said, “The very same.”
Gripping it strongly, he slowly grinned at me and I grinned back as I said, “Seems you like it, huh.”
“Like it? I love it!” He said as he ran his hand over the blade.
Turning to Celine, I held out a dagger which she took as she raised her other hand, now healed, to her mouth as she gazed at me.
Smiling, I said, “Your Dagger, my lady. Please try not to stab me with it next time we fight.”
Laughing, Celine spun it through her fingers as she said, “I’ll try not to. But no promises.”
Turning to Ares, I took out a pair of mailed gloves and passed it to him as he stared at them without blinking.
Grinning, I said, “I know how you like wearing gloves, but those don’t offer protection. These do, and they’re the same ones you had your eye on in the shop, so they should fit.”
Nodding rapidly, Ares took the mailed gloves and put it on before he flexed his fingers and looked at me with wide eyes.
Pleased that he liked it, I turned around to see Sia pouting off to the side.
Approaching her, I said, “You also want one?”
Still pouting and looking away, she said, “No. I don’t.”
“Oh, so you don’t want these?” I said, as I held up a pair of gleaming greaves.
Swivelling around and looking at them with eyes ablaze, she said, “I do. I do.”
Laughing, I held it out to her, but she hesitated before she said, “But it’s not my birthday....”
Almost rapping her on the head with the greaves, I said, “It’s not their birthday now either, is it?”
“Besides… it doesn’t have to be a special day for me to get you something,” I said, as I leaned forward and pressed the greaves into her hands.
Wordlessly, she looked at me before she ducked her head and began examining the greaves gleefully.
As they lost themselves in examining their gifts, I quietly stood there as I thought of my own birthday almost three months ago.
Poor Sia was so sad that she couldn’t get me a gift.
She even tried secretly cooking food for me. But my assistants came running to me, begging me to keep the Chief Maiden from burning down their kitchen.
After I calmed them down, I kept watch and put out the occasional fire that broke out without Sia noticing, engrossed as she was in cooking.
After which, she brought me this little cute meat muffin that was supposed to be a cake. Just burnt to a crisp, of course.
And I ate it happily with a wide smile.
A smile which cracked as my teeth Bal near cracked.
But it’s the thought that counts!
That didn’t console Sia though, who looked bal near ready to punch her own teeth out for as she put it, “Stupid to think I could cook.”
It took a lot of calming her down with promises that I’ll teach her to cook, and that the cake was actually delicious.
Chuckling, I tapped on my finite ring as I pondered, and then making my decision; I turned to Ares as I called out.
Looking at me inquiringly, Ares raised his eyebrows, and I cleared my throat and said, “Ares, I know this might be too early. But…” trailing off, I held out my hand and unclenched my fist.
Peering at the object that lay on my palm, Ares sucked in a deep breath before he looked at me intensely.
Nodding, I said, “I don’t know how long all of us can stay like this. But I thought that I would say it before we parted ways again.”
“Say what?” Sia asked as she looked up from her greaves.
“That I want you to be my first Knight.” I said solemnly.
Bolting upright, Ares stared at me as he said in a choked voice, “Are you sure?”
Firmly nodding, I repeated myself. “I don’t care if you’re not silver rank yet. I want you to be my first Knight.” and I held out the badge… the badge of the House of Drayke that I had commissioned the painter in Yamal to make out to him.
Ares stared at me for a very short moment before he heavily nodded.
Grinning at him, I stepped forward and raised the badge, only for him to lift up his hand as he said in a choked voice, “I am no Drayke… Faustus.”
Ignoring him, I pinned the badge on his chest as it heaved up and down, and I said with as much emotion as I could infuse into my voice, “You are a Knight of the Draykes, and the day you turn silver rank, I will dub you myself under Falka’s eyes.”
Shaking his head, Ares said, “I might not become a Knight of the Draykes, Faustus. But I am your Knight henceforth, and I shall not take any other as my liege.”
Smiling, I clapped him on the shoulder and met his eyes as I said simply, “I know.”
Turning, I looked at the rest and repeated, “I know.”
Then Damon was lifting the pitcher of Juice as he said, “A toast!”
Grinning, I said, “A toast!”
As I downed the glass, I thought of the oath Ares had made.
We might be young right now, but our word was iron.
However, steel was stronger than iron, and our bonds?
They were steel.
And they would not break easily.