Exelda sat at the wooden table and drank wine out of a bottle as she watched Kefalia set up two prayer shrines against the wall between the front window and the door. After Kefalia finished, she got down on her knees to pray at one, shuffled over to the next one, prayed at that one, and shuffled back to the first one. She repeated this process until Exelda asked her, “What are you doing?”
Kefalia craned her head towards Exelda as she answered, “I’m praying to Athena for wisdom and Aphrodite for love.”
“Not a good idea!” Exelda took a swig from her wine bottled before she continued, “They don’t get along.”
“Why not?” Kefalia replied curiously.
Stocastin, who had been sitting on the staircase doing equations again, informed Kefalia, “Because wisdom involves logic and love lacks logic. That’s why people who fall in love act like idiots.”
“Oh, is that why people have always called me that?” Kefalia chirped.
Exelda told her, “You didn’t fall in love when you were a child!”
Kefalia disputed, “But I loved my parents!”
“Stocastin didn’t mean that kind of love,” Exelda corrected her. “He meant when you’ve found the person you want to spend the rest of your life with.”
“I want to spend the rest of my life with my parents!” Kefalia argued.
Stocastin put in, “I meant the kind of love where you find the one you want to start your own family with.”
Kefalia fretted, “Really? Ugh, love is so confusing! This is why I need to pray to both of them!”
“Are you really praying to Aphrodite about your parents?” Exelda wondered.
“No! I’m praying to her because of my feelings for…” She grew embarrassed and shifted her eyes to the floor bashfully. “Well, I mean, I think I have feelings for… I’m not sure! I don’t know how I feel!”
“Did you know there’s a science behind falling in love?” Stocastin expounded. “It’s a combination of three biochemical reactions in your brain. First, adrenaline is released from an exciting experience, and then a hormone mixes with your brain chemicals to increase attraction. Then a different set of hormones-.”
Exelda interrupted him, “Stocastin, you should really fall in love with someone! You have too much logic!” Stocastin looked slightly miffed by her reaction. “One of you needs more logic, and one of you needs less, so why don’t you both pray for the corresponding goddess’ advice?” Stocastin and Kefalia turned to each other, shrugged, and went to the shrines to pray. To Exelda’s dismay, Stocastin went to Athena’s shrine and Kefalia went to Aphrodite. “No, you have it backwards! Ugh!”
From the hayloft above them, Akintos peeked his head over the railing and requested, “Will you keep it down? Someone’s trying to sleep up here!”
“Since when do you need quiet to sleep?” Exelda retorted.
“I’m not talking about me,” Akintos expressed to her. “Narcius is trying to get his ‘beauty sleep,’ okay?”
Exelda teased him, “So what are you doing up there? Do you also think he’s beautiful when he sleeps?”
Akintos looked affronted. “How dare you! I’m just too comfortable to get up. I mean stand up!”
Kefalia, Exelda, and Stocastin all doubled over in laughter, and in the middle of their fit of giggles, they heard a knock on the door. Stocastin indicated to Kefalia, “You’re closest to the door.” Kefalia laid perfectly still, so he awkwardly inquired, “Um, are you going to get that?”
With her teeth clenched together, Kefalia stated, “I can’t.”
“We’ve been over this before, Kefalia,” Exelda reminded her, “All you have to do is turn the knob to open it.”
“No, I mean I literally can’t,” Kefalia iterated. “I can’t move for several minutes.”
Akintos concurred, “Same here!”
Kefalia sighed, “This always happens when I laugh too hard!”
As Stocastin answered the door, he remarked, “You don’t make any sense!”
The person at the door turned out to be Dason. “Pardon?”
“I think he’s talking to me,” Kefalia let him know while still lying on the ground.
“I see…” Dason stared at her in confusion but decided not to ask. “Oh, I see you’ve been praying for luck in your upcoming battles!”
Stocastin gasped, “That would have been a great idea!”
Dason queried, “Why else would you be praying to Athena?”
“New equations to solve.” Stocastin hung his head ashamedly.
Dason raised his eyebrows but, once again, decided not to press the subject. “Oh, I see someone’s been praying to Aphrodite! Was it you?” He pointed to Exelda.
Exelda held up her bottle of alcohol in the air. “No, I’m paying tribute to the wine god, Bacchus!”
Dason probed, “Are you a drunkard?”
“I’m not a drunkard! I don’t drink that much!” She stood up and brushed her foot against another bottle, which chimed against a few more.
“You could get called into battle at any moment,” Dason gently chided her. “You shouldn’t engage in anything that impairs your judgment.”
Exelda felt deeply insulted by that. “My drinking doesn’t affect my fighting skills! And my mind is as sharp as a…”
From the hayloft, Akintos joked, “Feather.”
“Yes!” She thought about it for a second and corrected herself, “Wait, no!” Dason watched her skeptically, so she contended, “That doesn’t prove anything!”
“You want to prove yourself? Well then, punch me!” Dason challenged.
Kefalia, Stocastin, and Akintos all reacted in horror, and Exelda cautioned him, “I have super strength, I’ll kill you!”
Dason responded, “I didn’t say a hard punch. Go ahead and lob me with a soft one.” Kefalia, Akitnos, and Stocastin all had nervous expressions on their faces as Exelda stepped up to him. She pulled her fist back and sprang it forward, fully expecting to feel his clothing. Instead, she only felt air as her fist landed to the left of his arm. “Yeah, that’s what I thought!”
“You moved!” Exelda claimed.
“I can’t move yet!” Kefalia commented.
Exelda spat, “Not you!”
Dason calmly replied, “I didn’t move. Now, as prince, I order you not to drink alcohol or take any other mind altering substances so long as you’re under the polis’ employment. That goes for everyone, to be fair.”
The others didn’t seem to care, but Exelda looked irate. “To be fair! It’s easy for you to say! You don’t have any reason to drink!”
“You don’t think I have problems?” Dason disputed. “Did you forget that a decade ago, my wife died of a mysterious illness? And my parents aren’t doing so well, so I have to take over their royal duties! It’s not exactly easy to run a polis, especially when your polis is getting attacked by monsters and you don’t even know why!”
“Yeah, well…I guess you do have reasons to drink!” Exelda’s mood went from combative to sympathetic. “I’m sorry!”
Dason assured her, “I’m not mad. I know it won’t be easy, but you’ll have to find a way to deal with your problems that doesn’t involve alcohol. Personally, I like to exercise.” Exelda looked terrified at the thought, so he put a empathetic hand on her shoulder. She didn’t seem too optimistic about the idea, but she did seem as though she appreciate his gesture. After a moment, Dason felt somewhat awkward and removed his hand. “Oh, um… speaking of exercise, how’s practice going?”
Akintos divulged, “We started practicing yesterday, but I made a crack about the dummy being better looking than Narcius, so he got mad and destroyed it. Now we’re bored.”
Dason shook his head. “You don’t need a dummy to practice! Find another way to hone your skills! Remember, we won’t pay you to save the city-state if the city-state doesn’t exist anymore!”
“I never thought about like that!” Akintos mulled this concept over.
Dason chuckled and added, “We want you to survive this ordeal as well, so please take this seriously!” They all mumbled in agreement. He turned to leave and said, “Take care of yourselves now!” He noticed that Exelda still seemed worried, so he softly nudged her chin up and reassured her, “You’ll be fine without it, I promise!” He smiled at her encouragingly, but she could only half smile back. He accepted this and waved to the others before he left.
After he was gone, Exelda went back to the table and picked up a bottle of wine by habit. As she uncorked it, she remembered Dason’s decree, so she put it down and grumbled, “Well, I didn’t have anything planned for today. Let’s practice!” She yelled to Akintos, “Can you see if Narcius is still alive?”
“I could,” he replied. “but I’m so comfortable here…”
“Ugh!” Exelda still had a cork in her hand, so she threw it up to the hayloft. She knew she had hit her target when she heard his high pitched scream. “Oh good, you’re awake! Time to practice!”
As Dason walked down a hillside path, he noticed a man in the bushes grunting and gesturing wildly. Dason questioned him, “Um, what are you doing?”
Marcin quickly turned around and stood as if he were hiding something behind him. “I’m not doing anything sinister!”
Dason found his behavior odd, but he decided that he didn’t want to know after all. “Okay then!”
As Dason began to walk away, Marcin got struck with an idea. “Actually, I could use your help.”
“Pass!” Dason immediately declined.
“No, no, no! It’s not what you think!” Marcin clarified. He looked at him pleadingly, and while Dason didn’t totally believe him, he stepped off the path to investigate. When Dason couldn’t see him anymore, Marcin held up a burlap sack and grinned wickedly.