"I yield," a sweat-soaked Sophos panted. I lowered my wooden practice sword and almost laughed at the astonished expression on his face.

"What? Did you think you could have beaten me?" Sounis's cheeks flushed a vrght tomato red. He might have a stranger's face now – with the broken nose and scars – but underneath it was still my old painfully-shy friend. N one else could blush a deeper red in all of Attolia, Eddis, or Sounis. "Let's say that this is payback time."

"Payback time?" he asked. Sometimes, he can be slow.

"For throwing me into my attendants on your last visit here. Again, Sophos?"

He gasped in mock horror. "Spare me, O great king! Spare me!

"Coward," I teased, throwing my practice sword at him. He duckekd and it went sailing over his head. "You're getting better at that," I commented.

"Well, what's a mere king compared to the likes of you, Gen? Why, you're practically an emporer. King to both Attolia and Eddis, and Sounis himself is your slave," he laughed.

I laughed too. "Sounis, you're a venomous little snake."

"Well, who are you calling 'little'?" he demanded. "I'm half a head taller than you, and almost twice as heavy."

"Well, you are a bit on the giant side," I shrugged.

"And I have more muscles," he announced, almost as an after-thought. He flexed his arm. Quite impressive, although I wasn't going to tell him as much.

"Flabs of fat!" I snorted.


"Flabs of fat!"

"Boys, boys," a familiar voice chided. "Not fighting again, are you?" Two women stepped out from the shadow of a nearby oak tree. I sometimes wonder how they had become friends. The one who'd spoken was ill-proportioned with a broken nose. She was the ex-Queen of Eddis and my favourite cousin. The other was graceful in a ruby gown, raven hair cascading down her back – my dear Irene. My cousin was fire, a smile from her could melt the hardest heart. Though she was not pretty, I know many a King who would present their heart to her in a dish. Irene was a completely different case. Cold, commanding, and striking, she was the ice queen of Attolia.

"What were you arguing over, pray tell?" Irene demanded in all her dignity.

"Nothing!" Sophos and I responded in unison. Attolia shook her head in disgust, trying not to laugh.

"I brought you you wine, my king," Irene said, presenting me with a crystal goblet. "It's from your physician." I wrinkled my nose in disgust at the foul smell it carried.

My cousin had other plans. "And this is from Galen,"she stated, bring out another goblet that equally reaked of herbs.

"Must I?" I groaned, "Why don't I just shove that wine, goblets and all down their throat?"

"Yes, you must," Irene commanded, handing me the cup, while my cousin brought the rim of her goblet to my lips.

Sophos, being the prince among men, came to my rescue. "The drinks make Gen bad-tempered, and when Gen is bad-tempered, he starts throwing stuff at me. Why, the only reason he hasn't done so already was because he's already thrown his sword at me earlier." Forget what I said about him being the prince among men. I threw one of the goblets at his head. He dodged and it hit my attendant Hilarion, drenching him in hot wine, fell toward the ground, but never quite reached the earth.