Prince Elouan was grinning as he reached down to help his friend off the ground. He clapped the stockier young man on the shoulder once he was standing again. “You’re getting better, Tobin,” he said. “Still not good enough to beat you, my lord,” the noble said. He was the heir to an earldom and possibly a duchy, if his mother’s brother failed to have any sons. He was well respected amongst the other young knights as the best fighter other than the prince. “If any of you are going easy on me…” Elouan threatened, choosing not to finish his sentence as he fixed joking stares on each of the knights he’d just defeated in the last round of sparring. “If we went easy on you, we wouldn’t make it out of the ring,” one of the knights said, adding on a belated, “my lord,” when he realized that the prince had heard. Elouan found the comment so funny that he dropped the sword he was beginning to pick up from laughing so hard. “You make me sound so ruthless, Oran,” he said when he’d caught his breath. “I’m sure you said it with all the greatest respect, but I don’t want to frighten off the ladies with a fearsome reputation.” As he said that, he turned to make a flourish of a bow to the ladies sitting in a balcony, too far away to hear what the knights were saying. His eyes lingered longest on a pretty young woman who blushed when she noticed the prince’s gaze. “He wants to impress the Lady Alazne,” Tobin said, making a show of confiding this information only to Oran but speaking loud enough for all of the knights to hear. Elouan turned red before he tackled Tobin to the ground and forced him to admit defeat a second time. “Elouan! Get off the ground!” A middle aged man walked into the ring and barked his orders at Elouan as if he didn’t care that the young man was a prince. Elouan promptly obeyed. “The squires have arrived. You must watch their sparring matches because you must choose one to train this year. You must be careful with whom you choose because it is a reflection on both you and them. I wish that I could tell you to at least look presentable but you were supposed to be there ten minutes ago and well…” He scowled at Elouan’s appearance. Elouan brushed some of the dust out of his dark brown curls and gave a half-hearted attempt at a smile. “I’m sorry, Uncle.” Elouan’s uncle, Prince Ardian was known for being the most disciplined knight in all of history. What he lacked in talent, he made up for with ridiculous hours of training. He was getting older now, so he gracefully declined attending many of tournaments and other displays of fighting skill now, preferring to leave that to the younger knights. There were some in the court who admired Ardian’s determination and believed he was more suited to the throne than his brother, Emeric. Ardian scoffed at these ideas and even threatened to denounce one of those nobles as a traitor. Elouan obediently followed his uncle out of the sparring ring. His friends, who were not royal and therefore not required to take on squires, stayed behind. When they reached the area where the squires were preparing to spar, Elouan declined the seat that was waiting for him and chose to stand, instead, with the less noble knights who were taking on squires. Sighing, for he knew that he would never convince his nephew to take his rightful place as heir to the throne, Ardian sat in Elouan’s place instead, and announced the beginning of the squires’ matches.