Celestino Chooses a Gift
When I met Lucia again, I discovered she was a sweet, sunny, optimistic girl. There was nothing extravagant about her looks or behavior, and she had a warm, gentle air that made me relax when I was with her.
I wanted to get to know her as Celestino, not “the Dragonslayer,” so I only introduced myself with my nickname, Celes. I did wonder if even that would give me away, but I wanted her to call me by my name, not a made-up one. Lucia, with her innocent honesty, didn’t make the
connection between “Celes” and Celestino Clementi, and just gave me the same warm smile that she had before.
Being with her seemed to wash away all my weariness. Unlike the noisy crowds of noble ladies in the palace who were drawn by my rank or looks, Lucia simply cared about me. Her kind words were like pure water soaking into my heart.
At first, she’d been carefully formal, due to my status as a knight. But I managed to ease her concerns, until we were close enough that when the weather was clear, we would spend our lunchtimes together. Not bad, if I do say so myself.
Apparently, her mother had died sometime after we met. Left without any other living relatives, Lucia had sold her childhood home to pay back the debts she’d incurred caring for her mother, and come to the castle to work as a laundrymaid.
“I’m so lucky! I mean, I managed to get a position as a live-in laundrymaid. And in the castle, no less! Isn’t that amazing?” Lucia laughed.
There wasn’t even a hint of shadow in her smile. She was honestly rejoicing in her good fortune, so much that to my eyes she practically glowed with it. Even though her mother had died, and she’d lost her old life in order to pay back her debts, Lucia never looked back. Would I have been able to smile like that, in her position? I doubted it.
“I just love these clear days. The laundry dries well, and I get to spend time with you, Sir Celes.”
I don’t think there’s a man in the world who wouldn’t fall in love if the person he was interested in said something so sweet to him.
Yes. I was in love with Lucia.
When I was with her, I could just be myself. Not “Captain Celestino Clementi,” but just “Celes.”
People were often misled by my flashy good looks. But on the inside, I was a regular, boring person, really. I didn’t have any great interests, or special talents. I was a regular knight from a family of commoners: good with a sword, handy with magic, strong, but no more than that.
Ever since I’d killed that dragon and gotten saddled with the title “Dragonslayer,” it had gotten even worse.
I’d gotten so tired of wearing the mask of someone who had it all together — as the commander of the Third Regiment, and as a knight who protected the kingdom and its people. People who treated me like a normal person, people like Lucia, were hard to come by.
The days when I hadn’t even cared if it was cloudy or clear were over. Now I was simply a fool in love, waiting impatiently for the sun to shine.
Then my happy bubble burst when Sir Agliardi pulled me aside one day.
Knight Commander Fernando Agliardi was the leader of all the knights of Banfield, and a man I deeply respected. The king and crown prince apparently both thought very highly of him as well, and frequently had him at their side.
“Captain Clementi, I imagine you’ve heard about the purification expedition?” he asked.
I had heard that not long ago, the five kingdoms and the mages of the Academy had worked together to summon the Sacred Maiden from another world. Until now, the maiden — Maria — had been cloistered in the Academy, learning about our world and training to control her purifying light.
“She’ll be setting out soon,” Commander Agliardi told me. “This is still confidential information, but it appears that you, I, Lord Reynard, and a mage from the Academy will be her
primary escorts.” “Me, sir?”
“Well, naturally the Dragonslayer is needed in the party. Both for your combat skills, and as a symbol.”
In that moment, the only thing that went through my head was, But then I won’t be able to see Lucia. I really had become a fool for love.
Commander Agliardi continued, “It appears they’re running into some problems choosing attendants for the Sacred Maiden, but the plan is to make the announcement in three days at the latest. We’ll set out half a month after that. Good?”
I could hardly say no. The world needed this purification. It was only a matter of time before monsters attacked the kingdom of Banfield directly. And if the monster in question were a dragon, I didn’t think that our still-recovering knights and the Academy would be able to hold out.
If I wanted a future with Lucia, then I had to fight for it.
When I realized I would be leaving Lucia, I thought of giving her a gift. But, I’d never given anything to a woman before. I couldn’t think of anything to give her. What would be appropriate? Jewelry or something?
As I mulled the problem over in the regimental office, someone behind me cried, “You don’t give jewelry to a woman you’re not actively courting!”
I jumped, wondering if I’d accidentally spoken out loud — but apparently the words weren’t directed at me.
“That’s what hand cream is for, my good fellow!” the speaker continued.
“Wait, hand cream? Not perfume?”
The conversation was between two members of my regiment. The fellow recommending the
hand cream was Fedele Blitz, to a skeptical Jeremiah Ascari. They were both veterans of the regiment, who had participated in the dragon hunt a year ago.
“Lily Blitz’s hand creams are very popular with the ladies! Surely you know that, Jeremiah?”
“Oi, Fedele. I’m single, I don’t even have a girlfriend. How would I know what people think of a shop like that?”
“Ah, truly a tragic story. Poor thing.”
“What was that!?” Stung, Ascari started up out of his chair.
Blitz held up a hand to stop him. “Now then, ladies have preferences when it comes to jewelry and perfume! But with the hand cream, even if the scent isn’t perfect, they still have something practical to use. In other words, you won’t accidentally give her something she doesn’t like. You see my point?”
“How’s that different from perfume? They’re both smelly,” Ascari asked.
“But they’re not the same,” Blitz corrected. “A perfume should surround a person, to let them make a stronger impression, yes? A hand cream’s scent is much fainter. It’s meant to relax the person using it, to improve their mood, to smooth their skin. In short, it makes a lovely gift!”
He was right! Lucia was a laundrymaid. Given how hard her job was on her hands, hand cream would be the perfect gift for her.
Lily Blitz, was it? That’s right, Blitz is from a merchant family. They run that store. Still reviewing my knowledge of my subordinates in my head, I stealthily continued to eavesdrop on their conversation.
“And now, just for you… Ta-dah!” From seemingly nowhere, Blitz produced a small package neatly tied with a ribbon and showed it to Ascari. “Here we are, Lily Blitz’s prized, most popular item, hand cream! It’s a little pricey, though. Three small silvers!”
“…Is that the only scent it comes in?”
“No? This flower-scented type is the most popular, but there are also fruit-scented kinds…” “Fruity is better.”
“Oh, come on! I figured you’d want this one, I didn’t bring any of the fruit type!” Blitz pleaded. “This kind is by far and away the most popular, and it’s hard to get. Do you have any idea how much trouble it was to get this one?”
“Then work on your sales pitch, you merchant!” “I am a knight!”
Listening to Blitz’s words, I pictured Lucia. Flowers or fruit… Somehow, I thought flowers would suit Lucia better.
“Well then, when I ask her out, maybe we’ll swing by Lily Blitz,” Ascari said.
“Oh-ho, making a move, are we? It’s high time you showed some courage. Well, if you take my recommendation, she will certainly enjoy it. Although, if you visit the store, then you really
should look at the cosmetics…”
“Oh come on, you pushy peddler!”
“It’s a cosmetics store! Those are our primary wares!”
“You are such a merchant…”
Sighing with disappointment, Blitz moved to return the package to his pocket. “Blitz. If you don’t have any use for it, could I buy it?”
…Saying those words took every bit of courage in my body.
In my quarters in the bachelors’ dorm for the knights, I stared at the present I’d acquired, and fretted.
Once we left on the purification expedition, we would be gone for a long time. I couldn’t be sure that someone else wouldn’t notice Lucia during that time. If, say, one of the other survivors of the dragon-slaying expedition were to meet her, it was possible that they’d fall for her just as hard as I had. Given that, I really wanted to give her something to wear, something visible.
And…I wanted something of Lucia’s, to carry with me as a token. Men with wives or lovers would often tuck something from their ladies into their pockets whenever setting out on a monster hunt. I’d never really paid much attention before, but now I understood how they felt.
Something of Lucia’s… A handkerchief, maybe? No…if possible, I really wanted something a little more personal.
As I was thinking, my eyes fell on the ribbon tied around the package. Come to think of it, Lucia always had her hair tied back with a ribbon. If she were willing, borrowing that would be perfect.
But if I take her ribbon, her hair would get in her way. So I can give her a ribbon as well. Decision made, I left my room.
Ultimately, I was able to get her to accept the gift. She very nearly turned it down, but overall, I thought it had gone very well indeed. And Lucia had even held my hands! I was so very lucky. Thank goodness I had put the effort in.
Her hands were much smaller than mine, with slender, delicate fingers. Yes, they were chapped enough that you could see the roughness, but that was because she worked hard. I found them far more beautiful than the prettily manicured, white hands of noble ladies. I suspect she had no idea how hard it was to let go.
I also succeeded in acquiring something of hers as a token for my journey: her hair ribbon, the same violet color that her eyes were when the sunlight caught them.
It was strange. When I put the ribbon into my pocket, somehow I felt as though Lucia herself was walking beside me. No wonder the other men wanted to carry something from their wives
and lovers. Suddenly, I felt as though I truly understood where they were coming from.
Also, Lucia was so cute with her hair loose.
Normally, she wore it tied in a ponytail so that it wouldn’t get in the way as she worked. Seeing it fall loose from her usual ponytail with a soft, pleasant smell of soap… Well, to be honest, it was a little bit awkward. That was much too dangerous. I didn’t want her to do that in front of any other man. She was just too vulnerable like that.
And yes, I was the one who’d asked her to take her ribbon out in the first place, but still!
She’d also used the ribbon I’d wrapped around her gift in place of the ribbon that she’d given me. Even though I’d planned from the beginning for her to notice it, I’d been a little nervous when she picked up the ribbon of her own accord. But as I’d hoped, the ribbon looked adorable on her. I was so glad I’d drummed up the courage.
Reflecting on the happiness Lucia had given me, I found myself thinking, What do I do? I’m almost too happy. I feel like I’m going to pay for it in the future, somehow.
…Which led me to the present moment. Because apparently, my worries had been on target.
“I’m sick of this! I don’t want to see your faces anymore! Stay away from Ed and Celes, you!”
“But, Sacred Maiden, that wasn’t our intent at all! We just wanted to see if His Highness wished for a change of clothes, and if Sir Celestino would like the fraying in his uniform mended…”
“What, so I’m supposed to stay quiet while you go cozying up to them!? Oh, you’re all eyesores! We had an agreement! I save your world, and you make sure I live in comfort! I agreed to give up on going home and save you lot, so be grateful and stop making me uncomfortable!”
We’d completed the rituals praying for victory and set out for the Cristallo Sacro, but the purification expedition was already falling apart.
The culprits were the black-haired girl shrieking at the attendants, and, unfortunately, His Highness the crown prince.
Prince Edoardo was so infatuated with the Sacred Maiden, he humored her tantrums as charming willfulness. Not only did he humor her, he went out of his way to grant her whatever she wanted. Even now, Prince Edoardo was speaking with Commander Agliardi about something. Almost certainly, it was about the attendants. Poor things. They hadn’t actually done anything wrong.
Still. Did His Highness have a fondness for pushy women, then? Honestly, just watching her verbally lay into people was scary enough. Personally, I would never be able to handle her.
For His Highness to see the Sacred Maiden as charming, he had to be a truly tolerant person. I suppose that was our crown prince for you. Just to emphasize again, that was far beyond me.
So of course, once she’d railed at the attendants, the Sacred Maiden came straight to my side.
“Celes, why don’t you come over here? I’ll sew that for you. I might not look like it, but I’m very good at sewing.” She stared up through her lashes with large, glistening eyes, not a trace of her earlier menace to be seen. She looked sweet and charming, someone to be protected at all costs.
She clearly knew exactly what her weapons were, and wasn’t afraid to show them. I had to fight the urge to back away. I was out of my depth when it came to two-faced women like this.
“You are Prince Edoardo’s fiancée, my lady. It would be inappropriate for me to approach you. The fraying doesn’t concern me, so…”
“Oh, but I’m only a potential fiancée, you know? If our journey doesn’t succeed, I can’t marry Ed. But…”
Her slender hands clutched at my arm. Unlike Lucia’s, her fingers were smooth, as if they’d never worked in cold water. Her red lips curved in a sweet bow-like arch. With an expression that was a strange mix of innocence and seductiveness, she murmured in a low voice, so only I could hear, “I don’t know if I can be the crown princess. It’s scary. I’d rather have you, Celes, to stay by my side and protect me, you know…?”
I could feel Prince Edoardo’s stare burning into me from where he stood talking to the Commander.
Your highness, this is a misunderstanding! I already have my heart set on someone! Even if she doesn’t reciprocate!
As I thought. Too much happiness and the universe takes revenge. I miss Lucia so much right now.
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