The King of Vere, flat on his back and panting, raised an unimpressed eyebrow.
“It’s rather simplistic,” he said.
“It’s straightforward,” Nikandros corrected. “It pits strength against strength. That’s the purpose.”
“I suppose it has its place,” Laurent nodded.
He rose from the sand and dusted his clothes with a careful sweep of his elegant hands. White shirt covered his torso, laced tightly at his neck and wrists. Same intricate lacing kept his trousers in place. The only concession to the traditional attire, or lack thereof, were his bare feet.
“Shall we go again, then?” Laurent asked.
Nikandros inclined his head, in deference to a King. Then, in deference to the sport itself, wrestled him down into the dirt.
He put up an impressive fight, for a Veretian. True to their nature, he was slippery like an eel, almost impossible to pin down. But once Nikandros had a firm lock on his slender body, there wasn’t much he could do.
Cool blue eyes fixated on him as he beat the ground in submission.
“You are an exceptional swordsman, Exalted,” Nikandros told him. “But you lack brute strength.”
“Really,” Laurent said.
“The clothes aren’t helping,” Nikandros added. “They allow me a better grip and they hinder your movements.”
“Yes,” Laurent said lightly. “You are much more... uninhibited.”
His eyes drifted downwards, an enigmatic smile tugging at his lips.
There was nothing untoward about the custom. Certainly Nikandros never felt ashamed of his nudity, the way some Veretians did. He had played in the sun as a child, wrestled Damianos countless times, won his fair share of tournaments; the sight of his naked body raised no eyebrows.
Except this one.
He became aware of his own laboured breathing, of the sun glowing on his oiled skin. Beneath him was Laurent, clad from head to toe; every glimpse of his pale skin felt wrong. It would struck Damen where he was most vulnerable, to look upon his beloved in such a manner. And yet it was impossible not to. He was too beautiful, cold like a winter morning, unpredictable as the sea.
His grip on Laurent’s clothes grew lax, for fear of grasping too much.
That was his mistake.
He found himself tossed to the side with surprising strength and then with a hold upon him that was an exact replica of the one he had just used.
“You learn fast,” Nikandros said, while above him Laurent shook with helpless laughter. “But you fight without honour.”
“You knew that already,” Laurent said.
He raised his head, the sun illuminating his golden hair and glorious profile. The look on his face was open and joyous. There was only one person who could bring such a smile to his face.
“Exalted,” Nikandros said.
They stood up. Damen clasped him on the shoulder, delivering both a warm greeting and a subtle warning. Then he turned wholly to Laurent, who pressed his palm to Damen’s face and gave him a slow, gentle kiss that had Nikandros turning his face away.
He approached the servants and stood still as they scraped the oil from his body. As he turned, the two Kings were still kissing, unaware or uncaring of the rather sizeable audience.
It would take a fool to try and stand between them. In all honesty, he wouldn’t ever want to; the sight of them, alive and happy, brought him enough joy.
He was getting sentimental, Nikandros realized. Perhaps it was time for some extensive field exercise...