Babysitting. They were babysitting him. He was not left alone with Thuxra while he trained. They rearranged their schedules or hid from their responsibilities. They could not keep it up for long, and Dastan felt Thuxra was biding his time.
Thuxra was kind to the true princes, praising them even when they were just spectators. Tus and Garsiv did not realize the praise was just as harsh as the abuse of training had been. Dastan was homesick for the streets. At least there he knew how to defend himself- here in the palace he had to form a thick skin instead.
Garsiv was with him today, taking the time to sharpen one of his swords with a whetstone. Dastan was working with a stuffed form, pretending it was Thuxra. Each swat and slice was invigorating even though Thuxra kept correcting him. Dastan felt he was truly improving.
It was short-lived as a servant interrupted them. "Prince Garsiv, you are wanted by your father."
"The King?" Garsiv jumped down from the fence he was sitting upon.
"Yes, Prince Garsiv." The servant bowed again.
Garsiv looked at the main palace, then back at Thuxra to return his gaze to the servant. "Now?"
"That is what I have been told," the servant said quietly.
"Has Dastan been called?" Garsiv stepped closer to Dastan.
The servant shifted uncomfortably. "No, the request was for Prince Garsiv only."
"Garsiv, Father is waiting." Dastan sighed, but gave his permission.
"I'll be back, Dastan." It was said to Captain of the Guard, not to Dastan.
Dastan watched his brother walk away for a while, ignoring the feeling of Thuxra's eyes on him. Dastan returned to his forms, remained diligent, placing more energy into his thrusts.
"Face me," Thuxra announced as he sliced the air with his sword.
Dastan swallowed the lump in his throat and got into position. Instead of feeling scared, he felt anger. He was tired of being intimidated and tormented.
Thuxra must have realized this, and did not pause in his attack, giving no time for recovery. Soon the sweat was stinging Dastan's eyes and he was faltering. He tripped on his tired feet and hit the ground hard. He was tempted to turn his head away as the blade came forward, but figured he would meet his end face on.
"Stop!" Uncle Nazim yelled out. "Explain yourself!" He ran into the ring with his vibrant scarlet robe flapping.
Thuxra had the common sense to stand down and bow his head. He did not answer the king's brother.
"This matter will be brought to the King," Nizam said as he helped Dastan to his feet and dusted him off. He placed a hand on Dastan's shoulder and guided him away from the practice area. "Is this the reason why the other young princes have been neglecting their duties?"
His uncle was just as smart of a man as his father. Dastan tried to explain himself and his brothers. "They were trying to help me. I did not ask them to."
Uncle Nizam chuckled and shook his head. "They are good brothers, but you should have come to me or your father."
"Yes, Uncle." Dastan had followed along with his uncle's pace, wondering why Nizam had come for him. "Where are we going?"
"To see your father. He wants to see all his sons." His uncle presented him with an apple he pulled from the pocket of his robes.
Dastan usually relished the rare gift of the pomegranate—it had been his uncle's private treat for him from time to time since he had come to the palace. This time was different, and he was not hungry for the fruit as his stomach flipped with nervousness. "Oh. You are going to talk to him about Thuxra."
"Yes, Dastan. I must."
"Very well." Dastan was resigned. He would get in trouble, his brothers too. He would be revealed at being a poor swordsman and incapable of learning. Then all the men would hate him. He would have to return to the streets.
Nizam stopped short. "Do you think Thuxra should continue to hurt you?"
Dastan fidgeted from foot to foot uncomfortable with his uncle's full gaze on him. "No."
Nizam continued, "If he is allowed to do so it makes the king look weak. Does that sound right?"
"No." Dastan could never imagine Sharaman looking weak.
"Then you understand why I must tell him." They continued walking to the throne room.
"Yes, I understand now," Dastan answered, he was in less trouble, and would be staying at the palace a little longer. There was still another issue, which was not going away, "But, they will still all hate me."
Nizam rubbed his chin and Dastan would swear he was hiding a smirk. "Dastan, they will not hate you. In time when you prove yourself in the field of battle, you will be respected. But, until then, you are a Prince of Persia and under the protection of the king." Nizam ruffled Dastan's hair. "They have to like you."
"I –" Dastan started in confusion, his brothers had not told him.
"Think, Dastan, do they really like Tus and Garsiv?"
The servants did not smile at Tus and Garsiv. No one was very friendly to his brothers. Dastan went out of his way to treat the servants well, especially the kitchen staff. "Well, no, not really."
They were at the door of the throne room. "Now go and explain all this to your father—I believe he would rather hear from his son. He'll be proud of you and your brothers."
Dastan nodded, believing his uncle knew best even though he would have preferred Nizam to have told the king. But his brothers were there and they would stand beside him. For the first time he thought that he was where he was supposed to be- surrounded by family.