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Chapter Four


I had visited Miroshi and Sherem before, but the room that was behind Xandy I'd never been to. It was large... perhaps half the size of the Plaza outside. Many different weapons adorned the walls. Some which I couldn't even place their origins.

Standing in the center of the room, on a large carpet used for sparring, was Issur and Sherem. Both were shirtless, and the sight of them - even with the dull practice swords they had - was intimidating. Sherem looked over and nodded, his large amber eyes studying me.

"My Prince," he said, his deep voice as calm as always, then turned his gaze behind me, "and Serra as well!"

Issur seemed a bit taken aback by Serra being there, and muttered something to Sherem. I'm no lip reader, but it seemed to be along the lines of him being unaware of any guests. Sherem turned to him and replied with something. Regardless, Issur nodded.

The bald Weaponsmith stepped forward and gave a smirk that rustled his graying beard, his dark eyes locked with mine. "In here, you are no longer the Prince." His eyes were narrowed as he looked me over. "In battle, foes will not care of your bloodline. Likewise, in here, consider it worthless." He looked over to my sister, who was in the process of tying back her hair. "Now, no doubt your sister has been told, but should this city ever go to war, the royal family would be the first target. It's best to defend yourself than die a coward."

"You act as if his life is in danger," Serra's words came from behind me, and I sensed a slight trickle of fear in her voice.

"As royalty, his life is always in danger. I am surprised his father lets him wander around the city like a loose dog."

Serra gasped, and even though I knew he was baiting me, I couldn't stop from clenching my fists in anger. I could feel my blood heating from his words. Prince or not, I will not tolerate somebody talking about me like that.

"I'm a stray dog?" I growled, "You've got a lot of nerve, old man."

"I have all the nerve I need, boy," he said with a sneer. "Let's see if you can defend yourself without any of your fancy spell casting. Nothing's better than a good blade at your side," his voice was dripping with malice.

My blood was now boiling. Who the hell does he think he is? Magic was more natural to me than a shiny piece of metal in my hand.

I reached back for DragonFury, my hand automatically grabbing and pulling it from the sheath.

A shiver ran through my body. 'Scare tactics. Let me guide you.' The words echoed softly through my mind as the Mana coursed its way through me. Issur was watching me and eyeing up my stance, a stance I don't even recall moving into.

With a hearty laugh, he lunged at me. My hand gripped the hilt of DragonFury tighter and I gave a strong slash across, striking his sword with mine. I wasn't prepared for the next blow as Issur cracked his dull blade across my knuckles. I dropped DragonFury and clutched my hand in pain.

"Good start," Issur left out a boisterous guffaw. "But you'll need to do better than that if you're to survive."

"I wasn't prepared for you to rush me like that!" Flexing my aching fingers, I bent down and picked up DragonFury.

"I doubt that anybody's going to wait until you're ready if they're trying to kill you."

'Relax. Focus. Study your foe.' Again, the Mana echoed in my mind, helping me relax a bit. It had a strangely feminine caress to it, reminding me of how Aziza's magic felt. I clutched DragonFury in my sore hand and took a deep breath. Issur was watching me again as I set my feet automatically. He thrust his sword at me yet again, and I moved out of the way, his sword changed course and arced through the air. 'Move. Catch him off guard. Make him over balance.'

I quickly jumped back, and as DragonFury `suggested,' Issur wasn't expecting me to be as nimble as I am. He looked up at me as his sword struck the floor. "You can't fight me by dodging me all day."

"No, but I can stay alive." I sliced DragonFury downward, and Issur easily deflected the attack. His foot swiped and pulled mine out from under me, causing me to fall back and crack my elbow on the floor. My eyes instantly watered with pain.

"Congratulations. You're dead." He put out his hand to help me up, which I hesitantly accepted. "You're quicker than I thought," he said as I quietly cast a simple healing spell on my elbow and knuckles. "You just need to learn to channel your anger." Issur smirked slightly, "Don't let the anger control you. You have to be able to control it. Enemies like to play mind-games; it gives them the advantage if you're angry. It causes you to lose focus."

'Anger only causes mistakes. Mistakes cause frustration and more anger.' The voice was in my mind again. The voice of Mana from my sword...

'DragonFury...' I thought. It was the only explanation I had. It was that, or I was losing my mind.

'If that is what you wish to call me,' was the reply. I felt another warm caress of Mana surge through me from the sword.

"He's got a great stance though, Issur, you can't deny that," Alexandria was over on the bench, sitting next to Serra.

"He's seen you spar with Dannek, hasn't he?" Issur was talking about the Captain of the Guards. "He's smart, he'd have learned through observation."

I cleared my throat. "I'm still here, you know?" Issur looked at me, almost seeming amused. I heard Xandy leave out a rather uncharacteristic giggle.

"Alright then, Prince," Issur squared his feet, "Once more. I'll let you attack first."

"Just so you know, I really didn't pay attention when Xandy kicked Dannek's ass," as expected, the comment caught Issur off guard.

'Now!' the voice of my sword echoed through my mind. I spun DragonFury downward, looping 'her' around for a downward cleave. Issur barely got out of the way in time - the blade had grazed his shoulder.

I heard Serra gasp behind me. Issur, despite my fine attack, looked at DragonFury. "I'll have to give the Wizard some credit. The sword actually works like he said." Issur then looked to me. "You could have let it cut me. There is no mercy in battle."

I was amazed this guy had survived this long with the attitude he had. "True, but I need you in one piece if I'm going to learn," I smirked, earning a hearty chuckle from Issur.

"You're alright, Erihkam," he smiled. "I was expecting you to be more like, Raneb. Can't teach him a thing - he thinks he knows everything when it comes to swordplay."

"Because 'his father is the Captain of the Guards'," Xandy added in, mocking Raneb's arrogant tone.

"Precisely," Issur said. "Skill is not hereditary, at least not when it comes to using weapons. You either have grace or you learn it." He looked to Xandy. The sound of his gruff voice had somewhat of a passionate tone to it... He must truly love fighting. "I heard Raneb tried to spar with you once, right?"

She nodded with a grin on her face. "Yeah, he wanted to prove he was naturally better than I was. Based on gender alone."

Issur rolled his eyes. "I'd heard you beat him, didn't believe it at first. But if you have any of the grace your brother has, I thank you for putting him in his place."

I was really starting to grow a liking towards Issur. Sure, he's cocky... but at least he seems to know what he's talking about. Although, come to think of it, it could have also been the mutual dislike for Raneb.

Issur turned to me and nodded as Xandy stood up to head to a table at the far end of the room. I watched as she picked up her sword. I'd only seen it a few times before - she told me it was basically a standard falchion, just a bit more slender for extra agility. The hilt was made of reinforced ivory carved into the shape of swans, with onyx set in for eyes. I marveled that something so beautifully crafted was made to be so deadly. She bent down and picked up a small square shield, a large indent through the middle made so it curved to her arm. I recognized it as the shield my father had himself commissioned when he first became Sultan.

We spent the next half hour talking and practicing. Issur showed me different ways to grip a sword for different attacks. Surprisingly, he never once mentioned the use of a shield. I also learned quite a bit from watching Xandy and Sherem match blows. My sister seemed to treat fighting like a dance; her movements were graceful and elegant.

The next time Issur and I sparred, he let me control the flow to get a feel for using a sword, rather than him just swing his sword at me and hope I can block it. He was amazed at the agility I had in dodging his attacks, something I attributed to avoiding Xandy when I was younger. I'd be lying if I said I didn't get a fair share of bruises though.

I was on the defensive now, stopping Issur's attacks by parry or dodge. I had just dodged a thrust from him and slashed at his forearm.

"I don't recall saying to counter attack," he said, rubbing the small welt where I had struck him.

"You didn't," I was gasping for air, "but DragonFury did." Even Xandy and Sherem stopped their practice to look at me.

"Your... sword told you?" Issur was looking at DragonFury, looking unsure if he wanted to laugh or not. It was then that I noticed the faint pink glow from the spherical blue gem set in the hilt of my sword.

"Er, well... You did say it had a mind of its own, r-right?" I felt a bit uneasy now.

"I just wasn't sure if Erasmus was serious about that..."

"Erasmus?" As soon as I spoke the name, another surge of Mana pulsed through me.

I found myself back in my room, my head throbbing. For some reason I was laying on my back.

I went to sit up, and groaned in pain as my head felt ready to split open.

"Easy there, Runt," Xandy had her hand on my shoulder, trying to ease me to lie back down.

I felt somebody's hand squeeze mine, and I blinked a few times, trying to focus. Serra was at my side as well.

I smiled up at her and tried to speak, but nothing came out, just another moan of pain as my brain continued to play drums between my ears.

Xandy brushed my hair from my eyes. "You took quite a fall back there." She ran her hand through my hair and I winced in pain as she felt the welt that had formed at the back of my head.

I moved to sit up again, pushing her hand away from me as she went to make me lay back again. Even with the pain, I managed to collect my thoughts, casting a simple Mend spell over me - my headache subsiding almost instantly. I looked over to Serra and gave her hand a reassuring squeeze, but she kept her head down.

"You gave us a good scare," Xandy whispered. "You went pale as a ghost and fell back. What happened?"

Okay...? I took a few seconds to gather my thoughts. "We were talking about my sword. I remember Erasmus' name, and, well," I looked around and took a deep breath, "this."

Serra had kept quiet so far, her hand having never left mine. Xandy looked at her for a few seconds, then to me. "Well, since I know you're okay, I can go let Mum know." She smiled and ruffled my hair as she stood, glancing at Serra before leaving quietly.

I looked to Serra, still surprised to see her avoiding my eyes. Squeezing her hand again, I leaned a bit closer to her.

"Erik..." she whispered with fear in her voice. I moved to sit on the bed in front of her, and she turned her green eyes up to mine finally. Tears were pooling in them and my heart lurched in my chest. "Erik, I... I think Issur knows..."

I didn't know how to respond, my lungs didn't want to take in air. She threw her arms around me, pushing me back on the bed, her face buried in my neck. "I screamed when you fell! I didn't care that he was there..." My arms found their way around her, holding her as she sobbed. It was then that I realized I really didn't care if Issur knew or not. "Xandy had to pull me away so Sherem could get to you."

I rubbed my hand along her back. "Let him know," I whispered to her. She tilted her head to look at me with confusion on her face. "Sherem would cover for us. You know that, Kitten..." She smiled weakly at my nickname for her.

A sigh left her and she snuggled more to me, nuzzling her cheek against mine. "Can you stay with me tonight?" Her words were barely audible, and I heard the hesitation in the question.

I nodded. She seemed scared over something. "I should go..." She's always nervous when the two of us are alone in the Palace, but I knew that wasn't what was worrying her.

I refused to let her up, and kissed her cheek. "Serra, what's wrong, love?"

She frowned and hugged me tighter, fresh tears falling now. My heart stopped - it always hurts to see her cry.

"I... I thought I lost you..." she leaned up a bit, moving a hand to my cheek. "I thought you were..." she closed her eyes, hesitating on finishing her sentence.

I frowned, knowing what she was thinking. "Serra, I'm here. I'm okay..."

She pressed her lips to mine, her fingers lacing in my hair. I held her tighter and kissed her back.

She pulled away, and I whispered against her lips. "I love you." Her hand was running through my hair as she looked into my eyes.

"And I you, my Prince." She smiled softly, kissing me again. She gave a soft sigh after and rested her cheek on mine.

We stayed like that for a few moments, me thoroughly enjoying having her laying atop me.

"I really should go..." she was reluctant when she pushed away.

"Now isn't that adorable?" We both jumped at the sound of my sister's voice. Serra quickly moved off me to stand beside the bed. I felt my face heating up as Xandy smiled.

Serra smiled after the initial fright. "Yes, he is." She turned and winked at me as she left, Xandy closing the door behind her.

"Looks like you're feeling better already." Xandy laughed as she moved to sit in the chair that Serra had moved beside my bed.

"She's got a way of making me feel better," I stretched out, wincing slightly as a kink in my neck stretched itself out.

"I'm sure anyone would make you feel better if they were on you like that." I threw a pillow at her, though I really wanted something heavier. She whipped it back at me, hitting me square in the face.

"I take it you'll need me to be your alibi again tonight, Prince Brooding?" She had an annoying smirk on her face. I debated on throwing the pillow at her again.

I nodded slowly. "So, she said Issur knows," I purposely avoided her gaze.

"Are you kidding? I could flirt with him and he wouldn't notice, he's that full of himself." I chuckled. "He's got about the emotional capacity of a dead Saurus."

"Right..." I was smirking now at our little 'dead Saurus' inside joke.

"Yeah, Serra was at your side before anyone else was, and he thought nothing of it."

"I'd rather not take any chances, Xand..."

She smiled knowingly. "That's why Sherem and I told him you two have known each other since babies - that you're close friends. At least it's true." She now had a crooked grin. "Didn't say exactly how close you are though."

I smirked, looking into her dark eyes. "Uh, how do you think dad would act if I told him I was still seeing her?" I started nibbling on the inside of my cheek.

She stared back at me, the silence was killing me. "Last time, he tried to get you married." She didn't have to say anything else. "I've stayed away from men, for the most part. I don't want to be pushed off on some Prince just because I'm told I need to get married."

I sighed. "Guess we're stuck hiding then..."

She stood up and ruffled my hair. "It's not that bad, Erik. At least you get to be with her." I grinned as she plopped onto my bed beside me and laid back. She took a deep breath and added, "Hey, maybe after you get the footwork down with sparring, I'll show you a bit of a secret of mine when it comes to fighting."

I laid myself back down beside her. "Oh?"

"Yeah, but you can't tell a soul or my reputation is destroyed." She elbowed my side when I laughed.

"Honestly, 'little Lexia'," I laughed more, earning an even harder elbow - Father called her that when we were younger. "Why would I tell? It's not like you tell my secrets."

"Just making sure. You know I could make your life hell."

"Yeah, but you love your Runt too much to do that."

I heard a small chuckle come from her as she sat up. "C'mon, I'll walk with you to the Inn."

I raised an eyebrow, but she turned on my bed to look at me. "Mum would go Terrorsaurus on you if you used your map after your fall. Regardless of if you magicked it better," she added as I opened my mouth. "Then she'd turn on me for not stopping you."

I sighed, knowing she was right. Mum would flip. I sat up beside Xandy and took a deep breath.

I put on my gloomiest expression as we walked down the stairway. Xand had run ahead to tell that we were going out.

As I passed the Throne Room, I heard voices coming from the other side, most likely coming from the conference room, as I didn't see anyone when I walked past.

I pulled my light cloak tighter around me as I tried to move as silently as I could across the Throne Room. A few of the voices seemed rather irate.

" for him, damnit!" I heard my father growl out. He sounded downright pissed, something I've experienced more than a few times before.

"Sir, this news is just as it was before. You can't change him." I recognized the voice as that of Azeem, my father's advisor.

"It seems I can't change you, either, Azeem. There's news like this every month, each time with a different woman." I had to stop myself from gasping, as it wasn't hard to tell what they were arguing about.

"Sultan Erihkam, please calm down," came the elderly voice of Ja'afar. "We are just concerned because this time it's dealing with the young Katta girl. Mirak, the leather seller, said he'd met the Prince briefly, and commented on the boy's new sheath. He then saw your son with the daughter of the Innkeepers."

I heard a chair scrape along the floor then my father's steady voice. It felt as if my heart was pounding between my ears. "I am aware of that already Ja'afar. But if you think I should put restrictions on my son - a man no less - because of rumors, I am informing you now; this will never happen. He is my son first, Prince second." I couldn't pry myself from the spot, it felt like I was about to hyperventilate.

"Perhaps, my Lord," another person spoke up. "Perhaps. Yet I feel that this time they are less than just rumors. Something should be said to the boy."

"Nothing will be said unless I say it personally!" My father's voice was close to a growl.

I almost screamed as I felt a hand cover my mouth. "Quiet!" Xandy whispered in my ear as she pulled me away from the door, leading me towards the main doors of the Palace.

"What the hell were they arguing about?" she asked the moment we were outside and out of earshot of the Guards.

I tried to calm down my racing heart. My breathing wasn't getting any slower either. She turned and was leading us down the Tarik of Stars, where I slumped against the wall to try and gather my thoughts.

"Erik..." Xandy was at my side in an instant. "Hey, what is it?"

I took in a deep breath, steeling myself against the words I had to say yet didn't want to hear.

"They... They know..." it was all I was able to get out. Her strong embrace took me off guard. I hid my face in her neck and let out a shaky breath.

"Erik, you heard Dad though," she whispered into my ear. "About not saying anything..."

"It's... not Dad... it-it's Azeem that's trying to get Dad to do something."

Alexandria's had scruffled my hair yet again. "I heard Dad saying some rather choice words about him to Mum... I don't think they're on good terms right now."

I leaned back fully against the wall, giving a sigh as I looked up at Xandy. "I'll give him a few choice words of my own."

Her smile confused me as she stepped back. "C'mon, before they start saying things about us next. 'Eww, the Prince and his sister were hugging in a dark alley.'" She put on a nasally kid voice, and I couldn't help but to laugh.

"That's not funny." I said with another chuckle.

"But you are cute as a button!" She was shaking with held back laughter as she tapped my nose.

"That wasn't funny either." I put the hood of my cloak up, pushing my hair back so it stayed hidden.

"Cheer up Erik, my future sister-in-law is waiting..." I felt myself blush, and I silently followed her, not knowing how exactly to respond to that.