Age 16 / Spring

"Another round to me! Connor, you'd better not be letting me win on purpose." Hank reached down for the other boy and grabbed his elbow, helping him up.

"I assure you I'm giving it my all." Connor replied, more breathless than he should be after just four rounds of sword combat practice with Hank.

"Then either I'm getting better or you're lying-" He patted Connor on the shoulder when he was standing again. "-and I know you don't lie."

"You are excelling it seems, your highness."

Connor and Hank had time dedicated to their schedule three times a week for combat practice. It was almost reminiscent of when they were children and they used to play fight, except now they know what they were doing and they have weapons.

Usually Connor would always have the upper hand when they fought, occasionally Hank would surprise him and win fairly, but most of Hanks' wins were because Connor let him. Not today though. Hank was winning fair and square each time.

"Come on, let's go again." Hank took up his first stance, sword poised and steady. "Stop going easy on me, I know you're better than me but I at least like a challenge!"

"I will endeavour to do so." Connor wiped this forehead of sweat using his arm and took his sword from the floor. He also took first position, but he didn't have the confidence that Hank had.

His grip was weak on the hilt of the sword.

Connor's body was protesting at him viciously to stop moving, the corners of his vision going dark like a warning signal. The truth was, he had severely dissatisfied Amanda last night and he had yet to heal from what she deemed the correct punishment.

From the moment he'd opened his eyes this morning he had wanted the day to be over.

But Amanda was right. He'd made a fool of himself and of the kingdom at last nights dinner so it was only correct that he pay for his mistakes. He'd been slacking of, taking a moment to sit and pet Sumo- he didn't think he'd been gone that long. But thanks to his poor judgement, dessert had been served late. So late, in fact, that Amanda had to leave her post at the Queen's side and fetch Connor.

So she was already annoyed with him.

Then he had to go and make things worse by tripping on the new rug in the dining hall and smashing the Queens favourite fine china tea set. Connor felt sick to his stomach again just thinking back to that moment, the way everyone's eyes had burned in to him. He had stood up slowly, keeping his head down, apologized curtly and returned to his hands and knees, promptly collecting all the broken shards that had spread across the floor.

The Queen is kind in nature, so she had said it was fine. But Connor had heard the way the King had yelled at Amanda later that evening- she clearly hadn't taught him well enough.

So his teacher had taken a leather belt from the blacksmiths quarters and lashed it across Connors palms and up his pale arms until his knees had buckled from the pain. Until he could no longer hold back his shaky breaths and hot tears streamed from his eyes.

He hadn't slept last night. The pain was pulsating from his hands and arms around the rest of his body. He had simply laid on his his bed, eyes open, sniffing away tears as he became lost in thought about why he'd deserved everything that had happened to him.

Connor had been dreading facing Hank in the morning, thinking that the Prince would have ridiculed him in his usual joking way (Connor didn't want to think about last night's events, even if they were jokes) but was surprised to find that Hank acted as if nothing had happened last night.

Connor thought that perhaps Hank had missed the event take place. He took a lot of comfort in the idea of that- it saved him the embarrassment.

The issue was now though that he was trying to keep up to his usual standards but everything became much harder when it takes all your will power to even grip correctly without crying in pain.

Connor put his weight on his back foot and swung his sword out to the side, going in for a powerful attack to Hanks side, the other boy blocked it easily. Hank countered by leaning forward and in one swift motion he struck Connors sword with his own.

Connors eyes widened as he felt the collision of the swords. The sudden harsh pressure on his hands too much to bare. He yelped and dropped his weapon, falling to one knee and clutching the hand that had been holding the sword close to his chest as he trembled.

"That's a bit over dramatic Connor." Hank had said sarcastically, but his face told a different story, concern etched into his features as he strode over to his companion. "I barely even hit you."

"You must not know your own strength, Sire" Connor said through gritted teeth.

Hank knelt by his said "What's wrong Connor? You've never acted like this before."

"It's nothing." Connor lied.

"Connor." Hank warned.

"We shall have to be leaving soon or else you'll be late for-"

"Don't change the subject." Hank commanded.

Connor shrunk in on himself further and bit his lip, he already felt ashamed of himself for last night he didn't want Hank to laugh at him as well.

Hank eventually realized that he wasn't going to get anywhere this way, Connor was just getting more and more stressed. Hank sighed and sat down near the other boy being sure to give him some space. "Look Connor, just tell me what's wrong." he held his hands up "I won't laugh or anything, I swear."

It took a while, but Connor slowly began to relax, he kept his hand close to his chest. "You may remember last night at dinner I-" he kept his eyes glued to the floor. "My services were unsatisfactory."

Hanks eyebrows furrowed as he thought back to last night "You mean my mother's tea set?"

Connor nodded solemnly. "It will not happen again."

Hank inched closer to Connor. "She has dozens of sets she likes just as much. Is this really what's got you acting so strange? Surly it doesn't matter that much."

"Your father and Amanda seemed to think the opposite…" Connor took his clenched hand away from his chest and gingerly began to tug his gloves of finger by finger until they were uncovered. Connor he looked at his palms sadly once more before turning them around to show Hank.

The tips of his fingers and palms of his hands were an angry red with welts. His right hand was bleeding slightly across the middle where the skin had split.

Hanks started at Connors hands, his jaw clenched trying to keep calm despite the sinking feeling that was coming over him. "Who did this?" He had a feeling but he needed confirmation before he let his temper get the better of him.

"Sire, you must agree that it was only right that I receive punishment for my errors." Connor offered but he didn't seem to agree with his own words.

"No." Hank snapped.

"It's only right-"

"You know I could never agree with anything that gets you hurt, Connor."

"But-"

"Never."

Connor crossed his legs and sat more comfortably, he exhaled shakily. "You must not get angry. Amanda has done this before, but never at that calibre I must admit." He stared at his wounded hands, tears prickling at the corners of his eyes from the pain.

"Not get angry?" Hank laughed in shock. "Connor, you clearly don't know me as well as I thought." Hank stood and began taking of his training gear, throwing it to the side of the room "Don't you even think about tidying that up." Hank stated.

Connor nodded quietly and gently rose to his knees, Hank rushed to his side and helped him stand up the rest of the way "For once I require your assistance it seems." Connor joked weakly.

Hank smirked before his lips set in a tight line once more "I'll take you to the healers."

"But I am due to report to Amanda soon-" Connor panicked "If I'm late it will only upset her more." He went to retrieve his uniform gloves but Hank grabbed his shoulder to stop him.

"You've got the rest of the week of Connor, so says the Prince. I think I have a little more authority than that demon lady in waiting." Hank cupped Connors cheek with his hand and softly rubbed his thumb along his the shorter boys freckled skin, "If this sort of thing has happened before you should have told me."

Connor leaned in to Hank's touch ever so slightly and his eyes fluttered shut for a moment of peacefulness. "I am supposed to be the perfect servant, for me to make a mistake such as last night means my training is not working."

"Are you kidding? That's a joke right?" Hank removed his hand and grabbed the other firmly by his shoulders and forced eye contact between the two of them. "We are all human, we all make mistakes. You can have of days just like everyone else. No one should ever do what Amanda did to you. Over what? Some stupid tea cups? She's sick in the head. Your life and happiness is

worth more than every single shity piece of fine china that's ever been made."

Connor froze and surprise at the Hanks kindness and he smiled lightly cocking his head to the side. "That is very sweet of you to say… Hank."

Hank was lost for word for a moment, something about Connor just then made his heart skip a beat. He stepped back and coughed in to his elbow, hoping that would bring his vocal cords back. "Right, yeah well- I don't like it when you talk down about yourself. Lets go get your hands looked at."

"Right away sire." Connor smiled and went to grab his uniform jacket from where he'd hung it up earlier, but he hesitated. The injuries lining his arms and covering his hands really were stinging, the ones on his arms especially as his shirt fabric rubbed against them. "M-may I ask your assistance again your highness?" Connor said timidly.

Hank was by his side soon after "Don't make a habit of it" he smiled, clearly being sarcastic "What do you need?"

"Now I have given myself a chance to rest, my wounds hurt more than I had previously noticed. I can not reach for my uniform I'm afraid. My arms are extremely sore."

"Your arms? She got you there too…" Hank took a deep breath and let his temper subside, shouting and ranting now wouldn't solve anything, once Connor was resting then he could make sure Amanda got what she deserved.

"Here." Hank took Connors uniform from where it was hung up and draped it over the shorter boys shoulders.

They walked out of the training room and made their way along one of the castles many long corridors.

"I hate to break it to you Sire, but this isn't the correct way for me to wear my uniform." Connor smirked.

"You don't say."

"We should never swap job roles I think- if this is how you dress people the kingdom will lose all its respect."

Hank chuckled fondly "If your arms weren't all messed up I'd shove you."

"I know." Though Connor had a feeling Hank was actually bluffing.

Next week, much to the Queens horror, her most trusted lady in waiting Amanda was caught stealing some of her most expensive jewellery. Upon further inspection they had found years worth of stole items from the kingdom hidden in her quarters.

Amanda had been banished from the castle, charged with treason for breaking the trust of the royal family and theft.

Hank had no hand in this of course. He wouldn't go behind Connors back and framed Amanda for a heinous crime just to make sure she never lay a hand on Connor again.

He would never do such a thing.