As he approached the practice arena, Nathan eyed his uncle waiting for him in the soft dirt. Tychicus nodded as he brandished a broad sword. “Care for a bout before dinner?”
Nathan quickened his pace and grabbed the top rail of the fence, hoisting himself over in a single bound. “The physician said you were to rest a few days.”
His uncle smiled as he took a fighting stance. “That feels like weeks ago. Besides, I have more of my magnificent wisdom to bestow about the art of battle.”
Nathan drew his sword slowly as he made a circle around Tychicus. “You said my education was complete when you declared me a man. Have I shown a weakness?”
Tychicus laughed at Nathan’s serious nature. “I’ve realized I never taught you an important defense. How to guard your heart.”
Tychicus lunged at Nathan, sword aimed at his chest. Nathan quickly brought his sword up and knocked it away. Tychicus spun and moved back.
“How did you feel at the High Court when Maldez insinuated your father was growing too feeble minded to rule any longer?”
Fire flared in Nathan’s chest. Maldez had only his best interest at heart, not the future of Aquila. The man wanted to seize control, and dragging down the king was the only way he might gain access. Nothing infuriated Nathan like a pompous windbag in the High Court insulting his father, King Erastus.
Through the haze around the edge of his vision, Tychicus made another lunge at him. Too late to block, Nathan dove to the ground and rolled, coming up a safe enough distance away to raise his sword.
Tychicus relaxed and let his sword tip drag the ground. “Anger is a distraction from the important issues at hand. Master it now, or it will master you.”
Nathan just nodded, noting the early beads of sweat above his uncle’s lip. He tired quickly of late, sending tingles of fear through Nathan. This wasn’t just his uncle—he was Constable Tychicus, brother of the king, most suitable heir to the throne if the king abdicated. Nathan always believed he could rely on his uncle’s leadership, but now frequent visits the physician made to his uncle’s chambers draped an unbearable cloud of thought. If Tychicus couldn’t take the throne, it would fall to Nathan.
Tychicus cocked his head and moved closer to Nathan. He put a hand on the young prince’s shoulder and stared into his eyes for several moments. Suddenly, he shoved Nathan backward, his foot hooking Nathan behind the knee. Nathan lost his balance and landed hard on his back. He blinked and felt Tychicus’ blade tip come to rest on his throat.
“Fear is conniving. It demands you heed it immediately or something terrible will happen. If you let fear get close, it will whisper in your ear before stripping away courage you may have shown if given the chance.”
Tychicus switched the sword hilt to his left hand and offered his right to Nathan, pulling him to his feet.
Upright again, Nathan rested his own blade in his palm, studying it intently.
“What of Linus? I saw your last race. He rides like a kite on the wind, able to stretch across the finish line before you no matter what he’s mounted. And how often has he beaten you in sparring, in chess even? He’s the second born, supposed to be second in everything. Yet he is not, not even in your father’s affections.”
Nathan’s cheeks flamed, but he still didn’t look up as he said, “Tell me how to guard against that weakness.”
“Jealousy? Aye, it’s a beast to be tamed or you’ll forever try to live someone else’s life. You will never be your brother. You may never live up to your own expectations. But know this.”
Tychicus gripped Nathan’s shoulder again, and he looked up to meet the pride in his uncle’s gaze. “Our most holy Lord loves you, and so do I. That’s your greatest defense, what you must use to guard your heart. Love. Wield it wisely.” Tychicus thumped Nathan’s chest hard with the hilt of his sword. “Learn to rule your own heart, and you will rule this kingdom well.”
Nathan closed his eyes and swallowed down his anger and fear that he may soon shoulder a load beyond his imagination. But when he opened his eyes and saw Tychicus’ unwavering faith in him, he nodded slowly but with resolution. “I will.”
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