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This is about seven years before the start of the novel.

Eleutherios’s mother wasn’t happy, which meant that no one was. Eleutherios sat on the bench outside her study, his short legs swinging, heels thunk-thunk-thunking against the seat. Beside him, Loukas slouched, chin almost to his chest. This was the third time they’d ended up here since the last exsen.

It hadn’t been Eleutherios’s fault then and it wasn’t Eleutherios’s fault now. He might plead his case to his mother, but the last time he’d ratted Loukas out, Loukas had made him eat a beetle and hadn’t spoken to him for days. The silent treatment had tasted even worse than the beetle. Whatever punishment his mother meted out, Loukas’s retribution would be worse.

“Incorrigible, an absolute disgrace--” His mother’s voice carried through the door and they both flinched. They both knew that tone boded ill.

“They’re children, Genia,” came their father’s gentle reply. “They meant no real harm.”

“They tried to poison their tutor!”

“It wasn’t poison. And if Medicus hadn’t been too drunk to stand straight it wouldn’t have affected him so badly.” Eleutherios crossed his arms tightly, the back of his neck prickling with shame. “He’s going to made a full recovery, so no harm was done. It was just a prank that went badly.”

“It’s not just this -- Loukas has become increasingly difficult. I swear, he skips more lessons than he attends.”

Eleutherios watched Loukas from the corner of his eye. Loukas’s scowl deepened as he caught Eleutherios staring.

“What are you looking at?” he demanded.

“Nothing,” El said, hastily dropping his gaze. It wasn’t enough to satisfy Loukas, who administered a quick punch to the arm, one hard enough to bruise.

“Don’t you dare say anything.”

“I’m not!” Eleutherios rubbed his sore arm. Loukas looked ready to press the matter but the door opened and their father stepped out. Archon Eugenia didn’t follow him, and that was a relief at least.

He stopped and considered the two miscreants before him, his expression softened and he smiled wryly. “Well, boys, you want your punishment now or later?”

“Now,” Loukas said sullenly and Eleutherios nodded his agreement. The longer he waited, the worse it was.

Their father laughed. “Don’t look so glum, it won’t be chopping block this time.” He clapped each of them on the shoulder, guiding them down the hall.

Loukas went first, five lashes. Their father had a lighter hand than anyone else in the House, but lash still raised welts -- it had to, lest the archon decide the punishment needed to be readministered. Loukas took it with no reaction other than a grunt when the first blow fell. Eleutherios steeled himself to follow Loukas’s example, but couldn’t quite keep his cry behind his teeth. His eyes were wet by the time he was finished.

“There now,” his father said. “I take it that you’ve learned your lesson? I needn’t further explain that slipping poppy juice in Medicus’s brandy is not to be tampered with.” He looked between the two, and directed the next bit to Loukas. “And that you will be present for all lessons in the future?”

“Yes, father,” they chorused.

He reached out and tousled Loukas’s curls. “Good boy. You’ll make archon yet.” He pulled Eleutherios in an a one-armed hug. “And you, you are a good brother -- better, I think, than Loukas deserves.”
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