The young boy lying in his bed groaned lightly.
The rapping returned, this time louder. Now the boy sat up, brushing a few strands of light blonde out of his eyes and yawning quietly. His vision struggled to adjust to the darkness, the only light coming from the shine of the stars and moon through the window. He could barely make out what the old clock read on the wall across from him – it was somewhere a little past midnight.
The tapping came again, much louder than the previous two times. The child swung his legs over the side of the bed, facing the large window, and saw the faint outlines of a silhouette perhaps his own height, raising its hand to knock again on the glass. It was then that he noticed the pair of azure blue eyes shimmering in the darkness, and without hesitation he leapt off his bed and ran to the window, unlocking it swiftly and pushing it open.
"Asbel, what's going on? Is everything okay?" He asked, slightly worried. The last he saw of his friend was beneath the catacombs several nights ago; but that memory was vague and hazy and surreal, to the point where he wasn't entirely certain he had seen him at all.
"I wanted to come visit you, Richard. I tried going through the front but they said it was too late, so I snuck around to try and your room."
"Hurry and come in. It'll be bad if you get caught." He offered his hand to the other, who accepted and was pulled in, clambering across the windowsill before standing on the soft carpeted floor.
"But why are you here so late?" The young prince asked as he shut the window again.
"Surprise visits are more fun, right?" Asbel smiled, and his friend returned the gesture. "Actually, I wanted to come earlier but I was busy all day. I've enrolled in the Knight Academy."
"The Knight Academy? Really? What about Sophie, is she in Lhant?"
Asbel looked down at his feet and was silent. Tilting his head with concern and curiosity, Richard continued, "Asbel?"
The brunette bit his lip. "Sophie is… dead."
His eyes remained unmoving on the floor. "She… we… we all went into the catacombs to see if you were okay, and while we were there, this… thing… attacked us, and Sophie, she – she protected us. And she died because of it. …And it's all my fault."
Richard took a small step forward. "It's not your fault, Asbel. If anything, I – I'm the one who said we should use that passage in the first place."
Asbel looked back up, meeting his friend's gaze. "But I'm the one who convinced everyone to go down there. So… I'm going to become a knight. That way I can protect everyone and never lose anything important again."
There was a silence between the two for a moment, the atmosphere so heavy it felt like physical weight on their chests. "I'm glad that you're safe, Asbel," Richard said finally. "I know you want to protect everyone, but be sure to take care of yourself, too. You're my only friend, and… if anything happened to you…"
"Don't worry. I need to take care of myself. I need to keep living so that I can protect everyone important to me."
Again, there was a silence before Richard spoke again. "Are Hubert and Cheria going to be okay? And your parents?"
Asbel curled his hands into fists, casting his gaze off to the side. "My father could never understand," he said fiercely. "He just wants me to become the next lord of Lhant. I feel bad about leaving Cheria, but… she'll be okay. And Hubert…" His throat felt thick; he swallowed once. "Hubert is gone. My father had him adopted by some family in Strahta. I'm not going to see him again. I… I'm all alone, now, and… most of it is all my fault." His vision started to blur with the hot tears that began to sting his eyes, and he quickly wiped them with his sleeve before they fell.
"You're not alone, Asbel," Richard said without hesitation, speaking quietly and taking a half-step toward his friend. "I'm... always going to be here for you."
"But I'm going to be so busy now, and you can barely leave the castle."
"We made a friendship pact, didn't we? And that means we will always be friends. Even if we can't see each other for a while."
Asbel looked up, and saw a small, soft smile upon Richard's face, which he could not help but return. "Yeah... you're right. We'll always be friends." He then laughed happily. "Once I'm a true knight, I'll get to see you as much as I want!" A pause, before he took one of his fists and lightly slapped it against his other palm. "Oh, I know! Richard, you should make me your personal knight! That way we could always be together, and you would never have to worry about anyone like Bryce hurting you again!"
Richard gave a light, happy laugh in return. "That would be great, wouldn't it? But I wouldn't want our relationship to be one-sided like that. I'm going to try to protect you, too."
His smile turned into a prideful grin. "There won't be any need for that." Then, his eyes began to scan the room, before stopping at the small, sheathed sword that hung upon the wall. Pointing to it, he asked, "Richard, that's your sword, right?"
"It is. What about it?"
Before his question had really been answered, Asbel had walked over and taken the sword from the wall, and returned and held it out to the prince. "Then, I want you to knight me. I know you can't officially right now, but it'll be like a promise. That one day I will be your real knight."
Richard moved his eyes to the ground, speaking quietly. "Asbel..."
The other tilted his head to the side slightly. "What's wrong?"
"As far as I'm concerned, you're... already my knight," Richard said slowly. He found himself unable to meet Asbel's gaze – his insides felt fluttery and his heart rate felt irregularly fast, and he felt as though looking at his azure blue eyes straight on would make the symptoms worse; reasons for this, though, he could not provide. "You saved me from Bryce, and then you saved me on the cliff, and you came to save me in the catacombs, too... and... you saved me from my own loneliness, too."
There was a slight silence between the two, before Asbel stepped forward, and took one of Richard's hands, still holding the sword in the other. "That's what friends are for." He squeezed the prince's hand lightly, smiling warmly at him.
At last Richard returned his gaze, and returned his smile. "Alright, then." He took his sword, unsheathed it, and Asbel promptly dropped to one knee, his head bowed low. Carefully, he hovered it above Asbel's shoulder. "I, Richard Windor, hereby dub thee, Asbel Lhant," he said, moving the sword over to his other shoulder, "an honorary knight, and my personal guardian." Once more he turned the sword over to his opposite shoulder, before pulling it back and sheathing it.
"Thank you, Your Majesty," Asbel said in a dignified voice as he began to rise. He stopped, however, as Richard held out his hand to him. "A knight shouldn't take His Highness's hand."
Richard smiled, taking Asbel's warm hand into his own. "You're my friend long before you're my knight."
A wide grin spread across Asbel's face as he was pulled up. A soft chime sounded from the wall, drawing the boys' attention to the clock. "I'm sorry, Richard. I didn't mean to keep you up so late. I just wanted to talk and make sure that you were okay. I should probably go now," he finished, separating their hands and moving toward the window.
"Wait," Richard said, moving toward the other. "Don't try sneaking out around again. If you get caught –"
"It'll be fine! I made it here, after all."
"The guards might have heard you at the window, though. They could be looking for you. If you get caught, we're definitely not going to see each other, and the knights will get mad at you, too."
"What should I do, then? I can't leave through the front. Those guards will know I snuck in."
"We can wait until the guards switch," Richard explained as he hung his sword back onto the wall. "Then it will probably be okay for you to leave through the front."
"When does that happen?"
"The morning. Right after I wake up."
Asbel smiled. "So can I sleep in here? It'll be like a sleepover!"
"What's that?" Richard asked, a curious smile playing on his lips.
"It's what it sounds like," Asbel explained excitedly. "It's when you sleep at a friend's place to have fun. Usually you stay up late and play games and stuff, but... it's already pretty late."
The prince looked at him hopefully. "Next time, then?"
"Yeah! I'll show you how to make a good blanket fort and pillow fight and stuff!"
Richard laughed, holding a hand over his mouth. "That sounds like fun." He then sat back onto his bed. "We should probably get to sleep to make sure we get up in time, then."
"Yeah, I guess you're right." With that, Asbel sat onto the floor cross-legged. "Well, good night, Richard."
"Hm?" Richard titled his head curiously. "Why are you down there?"
"Well, where else should I go? I don't want to go in another room."
Richard patted a spot next to him. "Up here, of course. We can both fit."
Asbel stood up, examining the bed. "Are you sure? I don't think it's meant for more than one person..."
Richard laid down and rolled once, moving to a single side of the bed. "See? I guess it isn't mean for more than one person, but I think we can definitely both fit." He then sat up, pulling the blanket out from under himself. "Come on."
Asbel crawled onto the bed, pausing as his friend lifted the cover back over them. "Are you okay with this, Richard? It really won't bother me to use the floor."
"Of course." He shifted to try and lessen the physical contact, but it was to little avail. If he moved their torsos further away, their legs tangled, and if he moved their legs away, their faces became close enough that he could feel the soft warmth of his breath; he finally settled for having their legs overlap a bit. "Are you comfortable enough?"
There was a bit of an awkward silence as the two moved again, taking their arms out of the uncomfortable position from beneath their bodies, only to realize that they had no where to put them without inevitably overlapping each other. For a moment they laid there, not making eye contact, enveloped in silence with their legs slightly intertwined and their hands over each other's.
"Well... good night, Richard," Asbel said, finally looking back at the boy next to him and giving him a smile.
"Good night, Asbel," he replied, returning the smile with his own, watching as his azure blue eyes shimmered in the darkness. "And thank you for coming to see me. It... it means a lot to me."
Asbel's smile turned into his wide grin. "That's what friends are for!"
Richard gave a soft, happy laugh, and watched as Asbel snuggled his head into the pillow and shut eyes. In the next minute or so, his breathing turned to a slow and steady pace, his chest rising and falling with each breath, until his face took the expression of a calm and serene slumber.
Carefully, Richard interwove their fingers, and gave a light squeeze on Asbel's hands.
"Sleep well, my knight."