Emotional Armor

That’s it. That’s enough. I will not be insulted like that any more. I am a Knight of the Realm, a worthy and brave soldier…

Wait, what am I saying? That’s not me at all. Is it?

Hang on, that’s rubbish. Of course it is! I am a noble Knight of the Realm, known throughout the land for my many brave deeds. One can no longer count the fearsome beasts that I have felled with a swing of my arm…

What arm? I guess you could say I have arms, if you really stretch the definition of ‘arm’. And cover it in plate, that is, and hollow the whole thing out till naught but the plate remains.

But really, that’s nonsense. Who would ever doubt that it is an arm? Who would ever… I mean, if it looks like an arm and acts like an arm, it must be an arm, right?

No. It’s preposterous. I am a Knight of the Realm, I ride into battle and defeat foes. I joust and win. In fact, I do far better than my peers in all these areas. And as such, I deserve a certain modicum of respect. In fact, more than most people.

So what right does she have to do such scandalous things? How dare she insult my integrity and try to pry into the secret I admittedly am keeping? If I didn’t have more self-control I might have dropped my glove right then and there at her feet to challenge her to a duel. But quite aside from the fact that the last thing I want to do is harm her, that would have revealed…

Sigh. What’s the point? I guess she’s already somehow figured it out anyway. Or if she hasn’t, it won’t be long before she does. I feel so… so empty, like an empty shell who… Oh, right. Ha-ha, I see what I did there. Empty shell. Very funny.

Oh what the hell? I guess I just have to face the facts. I’ll have to tell her at some point, and I’m sure that’s bound to make me unworthy of her.

And yet… Haven’t I proven that I, unlike those other pretty-boys who all want her hand, have more than just air between my… I mean, that I know my stuff? I’ve seen with my own… well, never mind how, but I’ve seen all their lame attempts to seduce her, and I’ve even challenged more than one of them to duels over her favor. And I won every one of those duels, I might add.

I guess it’s easy to win a duel when even a sword getting you right where your eyes, brain or other vital organs should be doesn’t kill you. Alas, such is my lot in life, and sadly, not one that I have chosen for myself. It has been my blessing for decades, and now it has become my burden.

Well do I remember the day I awoke on a long-abandoned battlefield and found myself rudely nailed to the ground by some sword. I was just lying there, not feeling anything beyond an awful itch on the inside, as if there were something inside me that ought not to have been there. Well, there was the sword, but there was also something else, something very unpleasant all over my insides.

Having taken stock of my situation, I tried to get up to shake out whatever it was causing that unbearable itch, but found myself unable to do so. Locating the blade sunk into me, I raised both hands and yanked it out. This allowed me to move.

Those first few moves were extremely odd. It felt like there were things inside me jangling about, some moving of their own accord and others not. After a few minutes figuring out what was going on, I removed one of my feet and several things fell right out, instantly relieving a significant amount of the itch.

Judging by this experience I figured this was the right thing to do to cure me, so I immediately removed the other foot and more of the same stuff emerged. In time I ended up taking each hand off as well. Oh, I was able to put them back on afterwards, my manufacturers clearly knew what they were doing, and the relief was amazing.

The one thing that was the hardest to get rid of was the big object clanking around every time I moved. Eventually I had to remove not just my foot but my entire leg, and the thing came out, grinning like an idiot. For some reason it made me uneasy but I just swung the leg at it and sent it flying right into a hole about three hundred meters away down the battlefield.

Then I put the leg back on and kept looking around me. There were other folks like me lying all around, lots of them, but all of them were still. So I figured all of them had died too, and just went off to seek my fortunes elsewhere.

Over the years I’ve attacked and killed bandits, rescued men, women and children from terrible aggressors, even earned the favors of the King himself through my actions. I’m very well respected in this kingdom, though I do say so myself. And life has been great so far.

Of course, there are some weird things that come out of this experience. For one thing, I’ve noticed that everyone else like me is filled with one of those squishy flesh-people. Why is that? The first time I saw one of them take their foot off only to reveal a flesh-foot underneath it, I became very self-conscious about myself. Did they have something I didn’t?

Since then I’ve become extremely shy about my contents ā€“ or lack thereof. And pretty soon, it seemed, stories started going around about me. The Eternal Knight was the kindest of the sobriquets given to me. The Tin Can, others called me.

But quite possibly the biggest upheaval in my life came when the Princess herself dared to bestow upon my humble person the honor of her company. I had never felt any kind of attraction or even kindness toward squishy flesh-people. But this one was different.

She had a way of hardening my… resolve that nobody else had. She was able to stir something somewhere deep in my… at the heart of my body that made me do things for her I wouldn’t ever do for anyone else. I became, maybe nobly, maybe foolishly, devoted to her. It was like… like something in my… well, in my helmet had been altered somehow, and I couldn’t stop thinking about her.

But over the course of a few more encounters with this person, I realized she was trying to pry into my secrets. I don’t know why or for what purpose, but she held me, squeezed close to me, and even pressed her mouth to my breastplate whenever we were in private together. This I wasn’t able to understand.

Still, besotted as I was, I appreciated her company. And the fact that all the gossip around us sounded so positive only encouraged me in this way. But that was just the beginning.

Indeed, not a week ago a great announcement went around the Realm speaking of my betrothal to the Princess. Apparently in my discussions with the Princess and the King it came about that we were to be married. That, I understood from context and having seen this happen a lot among them, meant we would be pair-bonded for life to form a family and carry on the noble dynasty into the next generation, whatever that meant. There was even talk of me possibly being made heir apparent to the throne following our marriage. As if I didn’t have enough responsibility already!

But here we come to the offending moment, the reason I had to hold myself back from throwing my glove at her feet in righteous challenge. See, at that point still nobody knew my secret. I had jealously guarded it from everybody ever since I’d made my appearance in the human community.

But in one encounter with the Princess, she started expressing a desire to kiss me ā€“ that, I gathered, was what she called it when she pressed her mouth against my chest. Well, considering she’d been doing that for months already, I just told her that of course she could, and she knew it. In fact, I have to admit that despite not understanding the meaning of it, I did kind of enjoy it.

But that one time she implied that I might remove my helmet so that she could kiss me on the mouth. Now as you may imagine, this wound all my fears and insecurities to breaking point. I had to find a quick way out of there.

Thankfully, I’d heard that there were certain things that weren’t supposed to happen before marriage had actually occurred. So I made up some excuse to that effect. But that didn’t go as I’d hoped.

Indeed, she told me that kissing is all right before marriage, and that I needn’t fear breaking any social rules with that. I was backed up in a corner at that point. I had to find an answer quickly.

But I also remembered that some visitors to their realm seemed to have different customs from their own, and were afforded a certain degree of tolerance on the basis of the respect owed to them. Grasping at straws, I mentioned that in my realm that was something that had to wait for marriage. I thought I had a pretty good solution with that.

But then a kind of hungry look came over her and she reached for my helmet, as if wanting to take it off. I reacted out of reflex and swatted her hands away. But I don’t know my own strength, especially relative to these squishy humans, and apparently I caused her some kind of harm.

She looked hurt and sad at this, and I apologized, which with my inexperience in the matter must have sounded hollow as… I mean, fake as hell. As I mentioned previously, I am very attached to this person and wouldn’t want to lose her. And my time around humans has taught me that apologizing was the thing to do here.

Then she told me it was of no consequence, and that she shouldn’t have insisted. She said that maybe a bit later, when we weren’t so full of hot air, we could talk it out quietly. Obviously I took this as a bit of an insult. But knowing that I might have to reveal my secret if I showed my feelings and challenged her, I instead excused myself and left.

What should I do now? Should I just tell her the truth? What will she think of me then? What will the King think of me? What will become of us?

I can’t just reveal my secret to her, can I?

Can I?…

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