We talked for a long time after that as the night slowly fell and the sunlight disappeared bit by bit until we were shrouded in darkness.
Getting up to light the candles, I suddenly thought of something and voicing it out, I asked, “By the way, where’s your camp?”
Looking at me with slitted eyes, Damon spoke. “Not telling.”
“What! Why not?” I asked indignantly.
Grinning, Damon said, “Academy rules.”
Staring at him, I said, “That’s horseshite you know.”
Shooting a lazy glance at me, he replied, “It might be. But you both aren’t going to be seeing it all the same. None of you maidens are… except for those four.”
Worriedly, I looked again at the entrance to our community and, catching my glance, Ares asked. “That boy… Marrok?”
Nodding, I said, “I don’t know where he is and that worries me.”
Getting up, Damon and Celine joined me where I stood and gazed out at the entrance of the trail as we stood at the door.
Quietly, they said, “We’ll take care of him when he comes to our camp.”
Snorting, I said, “The camp we can’t see, and you better take care of him and the rest.”
Laughing, they raised their hands as they said, “We promised, didn’t we.”
Relaxing, I looked at them before I said, “It’s good to see you smile. The entire morning, I was scared that I... we had lost you,” I finished as I glanced at Sia, who nodded.
Growing serious, they looked at us silently before they shook their heads.
“We can be parted, but our bonds stay strong.” Damon said firmly.
Thinking back to my thoughts after Ares’s oath, I nodded fiercely in agreement.
Beside me, Sia spoke. “That’s a given. If not, I would have to remind you. And I’m not gentle. Not at all!” emphasizing it with flexing her arm.
Grinning, I said, “I can vouch for that.”
Glaring at me, Sia rolled her eyes as she said, “It was just that one time.”
“That one time bal near had me lying on the ground for an hour,” I murmured in a low voice.
“What was that?” Sia asked as she raised her brows.
“Nothing, nothing. You give excellent massages.” I said hastily.
Nodding sagely, Sia said, “I do, don’t I? Do you want one now?”
As I wiped away the sweat from my brow and nervously declined; the other three laughed long and loud, before they calmed down and regarded us.
Growing serious, I looked at them as I said, “You have to go… Don’t you?”
Nodding, Celine said, “We’ve been away for far too long.”
Moving forward and pulling them into a hug along with Sia, I said, “We’ll meet soon enough. The exchange market is there, is it not?”
Moving apart, the three nodded and then with a final look at the community, they walked to the trail and out of the camp… waving as they disappeared out of sight.
Waving back, I jumped up as a sharp pain arose from my side.
Looking down, I saw Sia ruthlessly pinching my skin with a fierce expression.
Grimacing in pain, I asked, “What’s this for?”
“The first Knight?” Sia asked with a dangerous look on her face as she twisted my skin further. “You made Ares your first Knight?”
“Ow, Ow, Sia stop. I did, I did.” I yelped out.
Letting go, Sia moved to the side with her arms crossed.
Rubbing my side gingerly, I moved to her and reached out for her arm, only for her to jerk away.
“Sia…” I said, only for her to spin around and angrily say, “Don’t Sia me! Wasn’t I supposed to be your first knight?”
Shaking my head firmly, I said, “No. You were not.”
Shocked, she stared at me before tears began filling her eyes… tears that she blinked back as she turned to walk away.
Grabbing her hand, I said forcefully, “You’re not going to be my Knight Sia. You’re more than that.”
Stopping, she asked in a trembling voice, “More?”
“More,” I said strongly.
“What do you mean by that?” she asked as she turned around to face me.
“Ah… by that I mean… I mean... ,“ I stammered as I blushed bright red.
Punching me lightly on the chest, Sia sniffled and laughed at the same time as she said, “That’s enough. I understand.”
Looking at her, I asked, “You do?”
Earnestly looking at my face, she said, “If it is what I think it is, then yes I do.”
Solemnly, I said, “It is. I prom-” only for her to cover my mouth with her hands as she said softly, “Don’t say it.”
As I gazed into her eyes, I nodded and breathed out, tickling her hand, which she withdrew laughing.
Holding her hand, I pulled her in close and hugging her; I stood there as she relaxed against my chest.
“We lost today because of me,” she said after some time with a muffled voice.
Resting my chin on the top of her head, I said softly, “We didn’t lose because of you.”
Still in the same muffled voice, she said, “We did. If I hadn’t made the plan, or if I had used the arrows… we might ha-”
Cutting her off, I said, “And they might have used a different plan, or done something else. Might, Sia. Might. You did your best. It’s just that we were outclassed.”
Burying her head deeper in my chest, she said in a small voice, “We were outclassed, weren’t we.”
“Yes, yes, we were.” I said heavily.
Circling her arms around me tighter, she said in a rough voice, “That’ll change next time.”
Kissing her brow, I said, “It will. It definitely will.”
“Mmh,” she replied, and we stood there until we heard a cough behind us, and turning we saw Apollo standing with Celsus; both bug eyed as they stared at us.
As Sia hastily pushed me away, I grabbed her hand back as I looked at Apollo and said, “We were just talking about the exchange market.”
Slowly nodding, Apollo said, “Of course. The exchange market.”
Blushing, Sia said, “What did you come here for?”
Coughing, Apollo said, “To talk about the exchange market.”
A moment later, an anguished yell came from the distance as Apollo flew away like an arrow, “But I really came to talk about the exchange market!”
But alas, it was too late, and me and Celsus wisely kept our mouths shut as the Chief Maiden looked at us calmly as she flexed her leg.
“So, tomorrow,” she said as she turned her attention to us.
Nodding fervently, we said, “Tomorrow.”
And the midnight oil kept burning.