CASeries #1: KNIGHT
Chapter Twenty-Five: Charles’ Kitchen
After classes, Valeriana was immediately dragged into the meeting room of the Celestial Circle for three reasons—errands, errands, and errands.
Valeriana went over to Corvan, with a pile of heavy books in hand. He was reclining on the sofa with his feet perched on the arms of the chair, ankles crossed. She placed all the books down on the coffee table in front of him.
“Is that everything I asked for?”
“Yes. Doulhette Dunheely, Hampson Jamison, Verhemalon Theodore, and Nullware Hearthwear—however you pronounce his name.” Valeriana breathed deeply, mildly exhausted.
“It’s Noulouere Hertioure.”
“Whatever. You really like reading, don’t you? So much you get hit on the head unaware?”
He glared at her before casually turning back to the book he was reading. “There’s one thing missing,” Corvan said, flipping to the next page.
“Dantalion Wisperia. Weapon Handling, volume four.”
Valeriana facepalmed and found herself exasperatedly trudging the path back to where she just came from. Her habitual complains had started rising up her throat when Corvan dismissively flicked his wrist, silencing her before she could even speak. She absolutely could not remember Dantalian Wisperia on the list. She rehearsed the names numerous times and even counted how many they were.
It was obvious this dude was doing it on purpose.
Sighing, she entered the library. The old and wooden door made ridiculous groaning noises that sounded like farts when bothered and it had been a source of her delight when she first came. However, because of her frequent visits, the librarian did not bother looking up.
“You forgot something, didn’t you?” the librarian said in a soft and low voice.
Valeriana slightly flinched at her sudden inquiry but stopped at her tracks to answer her question.
The librarian, named Rinda, was working behind her desk at some corner in the library near the entrance. Her wrinkled fingers were noisily working on a few documents, agilely reaching for the stamps and signing the bottoms on each paper—if not crossing out and encircling some things on the body.
“Not really, but yeah. Dantalion Wisperia’s Weapon Handling, volume four,” she stated, matching how hushed the librarian’s voice sounded.
“As I thought.” She sighed. “You don’t have to do what they ask you to do. You are no slave.”
Valeriana blinked at her comment. “You got that right. I shouldn’t be doing this.”
“Then why are you?”
“Because I don’t have a choice.”
“If there’s one thing I know, it’s that you always have a choice.” Rinda gave her a once over before tipping her head to the direction of the shelves. “Alright, go on then.”
Despite being confused by her sudden interest, Valeriana did not linger and sauntered quietly towards the section of the library where the book she was sent for was put in. She began her search for it quietly, letting her eyes scan through the whole collection of a variety of skill-related books. Her thoughts occasionally drifted to Rinda’s words about choices. She did make sense, but even if Valeriana did have a choice, she was pretty much limited by her capablilities.
“Weasel Hunting . . . aha! Weapon Handling! Volume four! Here it is!” Valeriana grabbed the book from the shelf and stared at it curiously. “What’s in these books that Corvan’s so interested about?” she muttered.
She hatched the book open and scanned through, but, unfortunately, understood nothing in the end.
“There are a variety of cleaving weapons that . . .” Valeriana trailed off as she stared at the following words written down. She skipped paragraphs. “There are different crucial points in the body to aim for to ensure . . . death. The heck? So this is basically a manual for killing somebody . . . I never even thought that existed . . .” she muttered, snapping the book close and turning to leave. “Well, I figured Corvan was interested.”
She continued leafing through the pages, hoping she would at least absorb something. There were interesting details and the illustrations, in particular, were very detailed. It described parts of weapons and the proper stances that would help offer better balance for beginners. She also found a series of pictures detailing the different kinds of sword, which made the subject a very broad choice—and the most popular option—for most weapon handlers. There were other very unorthodox weapons as well as common ones. However, Dantalion Wisperia seemed particularly very biased towards swords, which was obviously his specialty.
Valeriana lingered, finding herself drawn in by the book. She only snapped to attention when somebody appeared in front of her, long hands reaching out to block a clutter of books before they fell on her head. She was still hit on the back which was hardly worth mentioning, however, it could’ve been worse.
“You should pay attention to your surroundings.”
Her eyes met cobalt blue ones before they drifted to the edging books that were on the verge of falling. She heard a chorus of hushed voices and loud footsteps from the next aisle that trained straight out of the library.
“You seem to be hated,” Charles commented. He blinked and fixed his glasses, his fingers rearranging the books on the higher shelf.
“Was I just . . .” she trailed off.
“Nearly assaulted, yes,” he replied. “That’s why I was telling you to pay attention, especially in public. You cannot be so careless. Don’t give the Twelve a bad name.”
His scolding eyes instilled sharp coldness right into her spine, making her snap the book close. She bent on her knees and picked up the fallen books, unable to respond to the fourth-ranker’s incisive reproach. Charles helped in the collection. After the books were back in place, in proper order, she quietly gave him her thanks.
“Thank you for that one,” she told him.
“Was it Lord Corvan who asked you to fetch that?” he pointed to the book that remained in her hands.
“Yes,” she replied.
“No wonder. If you’re going back to the residence, you can come with me.”
As Valeriana and Charles passed by the librarian on their way out, Rinda spoke in a flat, but warning tone. “Next time, do you mind taking your fight out of my library?”
“We’ll try, ma’am,” Charles answered. “Please pardon us for today.”
Rinda did not speak further and continued focusing on the documents she was working on. Valeriana uttered a small apology to the woman before following the fourth-ranker. Charles opened the door for them and closed it behind him gently, making no unnecessary noises except for the creaking.
“Next time,” he started, and gave Valeriana a stern look. “Bring a sword with you. The academy’s regulation does not forbid its students to carry around a weapon which they are comfortable with, so long as you don’t draw it without valid reasons.”
“I see . . . I’ll keep that in mind, then,” she muttered. “Thank you for back there, but that wasn’t necessary. I would’ve been able to handle it myself just fine,” she told Charles.
“I expected you to at least be startled,” Charles said.
“I was, kinda. But it was a postshock thing—or whatever you call it,” she muttered. “And if I screamed afterwards, that would make me look even worse.”
“You cannot continue letting people do that to you,” he told her. “You’re human, yes, but you’re still a part of the Twelve.”
“Well, shouldn’t say that to yourself?” she asked him, raising a brow. “If you stop treating me as your maid, maybe you’ll set a good example to everyone else.”
“We have our purpose,” Charles replied stiffly. He remained calm, save for a small twitch of his brow. It seemed she hit home. “After you give that book to Corvan, why don’t you accompany me to the kitchen and help me cook?” he asked.
“I thought the kitchen was off-limits.”
“Because I said it was off-limits. For now, for you, it isn’t.”
She thought for a few moments. “Is that a request or are you ordering me to?”
“It’s an offer,” he said.
“I don’t know . . . I kinda have, like, a ton of cleaning to do this week.” She tried to mask a smile on her face but failed.
Charles sighed. “If dinner is successful, you can lay off some of the chores.”
She inwardly cheered. “Now we’re talking. Lemme first change clothes before we start. I don’t want my uniform getting dirty.”
It didn’t take very long to step through the residence’s doors. Charles headed to the kitchen without other detours while Valeriana threw the book on Corvan’s lap without bothering to greet him. The first-ranker, without her expecting, had been hit in the face instead, making her huff a laugh silently to herself as she escaped to her room—just before he blew up another blaze.
She went through her closet and threw on a light beige blouse along with her hello kitty boxers—her personal favorite—before rushing down the stairs. She speared through the lobby in which the present members of the Twelve gazed at her with mild curiosity. Corvan, however, had a glare as keen as the sharpened knives her mother kept for the meat back home.
She knocked on the kitchen doors. “Charles?”
And that, she did. The moment she opened the door, an apron flew to her face. She freed her vision from the obstruction and hooked the loop around her neck, ribboning the ties around her waist. Her eyes, meanwhile, skated around, taking in the varnished cherrywood counters and paneled floors.
“Oh wow,” she whispered. “This place looks awesome.” She pressed the door close behind her as quietly as she could. The lighting was dim. Add in the detail that everything was made out of wood; it made it seem darker.
She saw an antique china cabinet and the neat arrangements of dinnerwares inside. She inched away from it with thinly pressed lips, figuring it was better to put an extra distance to prevent meeting an accident. Sadly, Valeriana could be a real klutz, so she needed to be extra careful around the kitchen. She always got an earful from her mother when she would break something and all the reprimanding would leave her ears ringing.
“What dishes can you cook?” he asked.
Valeriana leaned against the counter, watching Charles take out the cutting board and some knives. “Quite a few.”
A guy who knew how to cook? Well, that was unusual, but not very unpleasant.
“Give me an example.”
“I forgot their names.” She shrugged. “But I know a soup, some chicken and rice, brocoli spears for the side?”
“What about dessert?”
“Pumpkin pecan cheesecake?” she muttered.
“Take the lead, then,” he told her, stepping aside to offer her access on the knives and the chopping board.
“What?” Her brows shot to her hairline. Her folded arms tensed so much she had to drop them. “I’m taking the lead?”
“I’ll be assisting you any way I can.”
“I though . . . well . . .” She scratched her head. “I usually just assist my mother when preparing dinner. But okay.”
“First things first, let’s see if you have the ingredients you need.”
Valeriana wasn’t exactly sure what kind of technology they were using, but they didn’t seem to be fond of using electricity. The type of energy they use to power up their equipment was magic—or power control as they preferred to call it. Thankfully, none needed the abilities of one so Charles needed only to show her once or twice before she managed to work it by herself.
Retracing the procedures when preparing the meal had been tad easy for Valeriana since her mother taught it to her for the purpose of passing down the family recipes. Jareth wasn’t interested in cooking complicated dishes since all he was ever good at was baking sweets, like cookies, for his own consumption. He would also refuse to share with anyone.
It wasn’t too unusual for someone who had been living a normal life until then. If there was something Valeriana could be praised for, it was her ability to do housework. She wasn’t too fond of partying back in her high school days or making a lot of friends either, so she spent most of her time moping around the house helping her mother.
“What’s the next thing to do?” Charles queried.
“Oh, we’ll wait until it’s finished, so I’ll be taking care of the dishes for the mean time,” she replied.
Valeriana turned towards the sink and began her work. She gingerly handled the used plates and the equipment, letting them run through the water as she gingerly soaped them clean.
“You are unexpectedly responsible in the kitchen unlike the other ten outside.”
“Thanks,” she said, a little flustered. “But that’s a little bit hard to believe.” However, seeing what transpired before during the Gathering made her think twice about what she just said.
“Although I do not wish to undermine their abilities, it is indeed the case.” He looked slightly annoyed as he spoke.
“Or maybe your expectations are just a little too high?” she suggested.
“Well, if that is so, you deserve a praise,” he said.
She smiled. “I guess I do.”
After working on the dishes, she checked the oven to see if the chicken was ready. It would take a few more minutes before it was done.
“I’ll go tell everyone to assemble in the dining room. I’ll be helping you take out the dishes then.” Charles took off his apron and straightened the wrinkles on his clothes while Valeriana continued working.
“Sure!” Valeriana smiled while she watched him leave.
Charles came back a few moments later and inquired if everything was ready. Valeriana nodded, washing her hands on the sink and patting it dry with the kitchen towel. When she was finished, they began taking out the dishes to the dining room where the circle was impatiently waiting for supper to be served.
They all fell quiet when the food came.
“So Valeriana made this?” Tamara trailed off. “It looks . . . alright.”
“Don’t worry,” the fourth-ranker said as he took his seat next to Rowe. “I oversaw everything. She didn’t put poison,” he told them. “But even if she did, I wouldn’t have stopped her.”
They gazed at Charles with dissatisfaction.
“Seriously,” Elfre muttered.
“I didn’t,” Valeriana began. “I was tempted to, but don’t worry. If I do poison you guys, I’ll make sure Corvan has the strongest dose.”
Keelan burst into a fit of chuckles. The rest of the Twelve later joined in save for the man himself.
Valeriana did a little taste-testing during the preparations so she was confident it did taste somewhat good. Anyhow, it would be better if the people who would eat it were to judge. Still, they all looked somewhat hesitant to take the chance—especially with the threat of poison.
“Poison or no poison, it’s still food,” the eleventh-ranker said.
While almost everyone stared awkwardly at the food on the dinner table, being the pig Keelan was, he wasted no time getting a portion of each. They observed the eleventh-ranker anxiously as he unhesitatingly gobbled down the food on his plate.
“Ooh!” he exclaimed, his mouth full. “Wit’s gwooow!”
“What?” Tamara frowned.
Keelan swallowed. “It’s good.”
The strawberry-blond boy continued while everyone else took a few more seconds doubting. Corvan was the second one after Keelan to taste it for himself, but did not say anything after the food hit his tongue.
“How does it taste, Corvan?” Raziel asked, but was unfortunately answered by silence.
“Taste it for yourselves,” he finally replied.
Brindon forked a piece of meat and shoved it into his mouth. “It’s good.”
Valeriana stared at him in confusion. He didn’t look like he was enjoying the food with the kind of face he was making.
Taking the first-ranker’s answer as a sign, the circle began feasting happily.
“Elfre! You’ve got to get something or you won’t be having anything to eat!” Aneeka said, eyes of purplish blue twinkling with amusement.
“I would never eat food made by a—” She was cut off when Keelan shoved a spoonful of rice and chicken into her mouth and forced her to chew. “Whuman.” She finished and swallowed the food as if it was being forced down her throat.
“Weeeellll?” Tamara teasingly asked. “What do you think?”
“Who would . . .” Elfre stabbed a piece of the chicken meat with her fork and gingerly began to chew on it. “Like food like this?”
The chicken was unbelievably juicy. The meat was very tender that it seemed like it was melting in her mouth. The aroma itself was already appetizing and the sauces that came with the dish did great enhancing the taste.
“Aw! Don’t be shy! Just admit it! Valeriana made such a good food! There’s no way to resist!” Genevieve guffawed while pounding her fists on the table.
Charles eyed her pointedly. “Genevieve!”
“Ha! The last chicken leg is mine!” Zevlin exclaimed and reached out.
“Hand it over!”
Dinner became lively and before anyone knew it, their plates were all licked clean. Everyone looked satisfied from their finished meal, but some were left disappointed since they weren’t able to fill their stomachs as they intended to.
Keelan burped loudly as he patted his stomach, looking as if he floated to cloud nine. “Ah! That was great!”
“Yeah, because you were the only one who ate! I was saving that for last and you stole it off my plate!” Elfre growled.
Keelan put on an innocent face. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Don’t give me that face! We know you know you did it!” she yelled. “I wanted the last piece of that cake and you stole it!”
The cake tasted mellow. It was soft and the pumpkin was properly emphasized. Valeriana was quite proud of it, as it was not too sweet for her to start gagging. The others seemed to agree, but Elfre was complaining about it lacking sugar. It seemed that the seventh-ranker had a sweet tooth.
“Well, since everyone seems to have enjoyed Valeriana’s cooking, she’ll be helping me prepare breakfast tomorrow,” Charles said, wiping his lips with the table napkin.
They all went silent, staring at Charles as the fourth-ranker threw the napkin on the table and stood from his seat. He then marched straight out of the dining room.
“Wow!” Tamara exclaimed, hitting Valeriana sharply on the back that she almost had her face on the empty plate. “Good going, Valeriana! You managed to earn a place in the kitchen! Good for you. He kicked us out when we tried to help!”
“That’s because we weren’t really helping but making a mess,” Rowe supported, chuckling. “At least, from his point of view.”
After working around the lobby for a few hours and having her last meal for the day, Valeriana went back to her room to continue studying.
She sat in front of the study table against the wall going through the contents of the sixth chapter on Law. It wasn’t a few moments later when series of knocks came, followed by a familiar voice.
Valeriana stood from her seat yelling, “I’m coming!”
She opened the door in a hurry and was greeted by a tall woman dressed in smart casual.
“Good evening, Valeriana,” the lady greeted, lips parting to form a smile. She peeked into the room past Valeriana’s shoulder. “I see you’re adjusting very well.”
“Good evening,” she answered back. “And yeah, please do come in.” She stepped away from the door to make way for her guest and Seraphina entered curtly.
“I do hope I’m not intruding,” the lady told her, glancing at the table she was sitting in front of a few moments ago. There were a lot of books on it that one could hardly see its surface. The book she was studying was hatched to the page she was currently reviewing.
“Not at all. Please take a seat.” Valeriana motioned towards a comfortable loveseat.
“No, thank you. I won’t stay long.” Seraphina shook her head and remained standing. “I see you’re working hard, though. That’s a good thing.” She then turned to the girl. “Lord Aeron told me your luggage came a few hours ago, or was that last night?”
“It was last night,” Valeriana said, happily smiling. “Thank you so much for this, it really means a lot to me.”
“You’re welcome.” Seraphina smiled.
“Thank you. But why did you bother sending my things? I can hardly use them.”
“I thought it would help put you at ease. It’s just to serve as reminder of your home and that I’m doing everything I can to help you go back.“
“Thank you,” she repeated.
“And it’s to pacify your mother,” Seraphina said.
“Pacify her? Don’t tell me . . .”
“Yes, she was making a ruckus about it.” The lady knight smiled, amusement riddling her gaze. “You can contact her every now and then through mail. Also, you can either send something to your family or receive something from them back home, once every month.”
“How about both?”
“Yes, of course.”
“Yes!” Valeriana could not feel happier. “Thank you!”
“Did you come for anything else, Seraphina?” Valeriana inquired.
“I came to check on you. How’s everything going? Are you doing fine in the Circle?”
Valeriana laughed. She went over to her study desk and sat on the open chair. “Well, yeah, I’m doing fine. A couple of nays every now and then, but it’s going fine. But if you could die with every request, I’m six feet under.”
Seraphina chuckled. “Do you need me talking to them? I don’t want you being pushed too hard?”
She shrugged. “It’s okay. I’ll hande this on my own. I don’t want to trouble you very much.”
“Please pardon those eleven,” Seraphina said. “Very well, then. I will disturb you no further since you seem busy. I’ll be taking my leave.”
“Good night.” Valeriana grinned at her as she turned and sauntered towards the door.
“And to you, as well. Oh, and don’t forget your weekly quota. How many days do you have left before you submit that envelope?”
“I’m . . . working on it.”