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Themes and Literary Devices in the Captive Prince Trilogy

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Captive Prince is a Bildungsroman largely focusing on the moral and psychological growth of Damianos as he develops through the states of prince, slave, captain and king. Damianos is at first set up as an archetypal fantasy genre prince: skilled, proud and righteous. It is assumed that his character will not develop and he will remain the typical fantasy representation of an ideal warrior hero throughout the book (c.f. Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe, Tolkien's Aragorn etc.). As the narrative proceeds the reader realises that Damianos is a flawed character; he is a perfect warrior and a magnanimous person, but has led a privileged enough life that he does not have the empathy or broad worldview to be an effective king. Damianos arrives in Vere having been oblivious to an ambitious plot against his life from his brother’s faction, and knowing almost nothing of Vere’s internal politics or culture. To have been so unaware of intrigue in his own family, and to have not followed the politics of his enemy nation, it is clear that he was not ready for kingship at the start of the novel. This makes him significantly more interesting as a protagonist than idealised warriors of typical fantasy literature. As the plot unfolds his ideas about his own kingdom and that of his enemies is challenged, he falls in love with his captor, and he returns home as a wiser leader.






The depictions of slavery range between being highly eroticised (e.g. Erasmus’s training) and harrowing (e.g. Damen’s torture), but the theme of slavery is dealt with more sympathetically than in typical adventure fantasy novels (c.f. slave culture in George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series). Damen’s captivity distresses both him and Laurent as his captor. The psychological trauma of Damen’s slavery and Laurent’s abuse are explored in detail and are a very important driving force in the narrative. Given that Akielos is a slave nation, Damen thoughtlessly uses slaves before his own enslavement simply because it is a part of Akielon royal culture. After being enslaved himself, he ultimately condemns and abolishes slavery in his nation. Thematically, the reader realises that despite not being actual slaves, the majority of the characters are in fact living in some form of bondage where their life choices are heavily limited by others.


Damen himself is never truly a slave. The title is Captive Prince, but despite there being a literally imprisoned prince in the prologue, it becomes obvious early on who the de facto captive prince is. Damen is a disobedient prisoner who must be constantly chained to prevent him from escaping or from wreaking havoc, and he admits to himself that he is terrible at impersonating a slave even to save his own life. Damen practically advertises that he is Prince Damianos to Laurent by addressing him as if they are of the same rank in perfect accentless Veretian, and behaves as Laurent's equal and mentor despite being his slave. As soon as he is reunited with the Akielon army, Damen effortlessly takes on the roles o military commander and king.


In contrast, Laurent is figuratively trapped in his own palace by a labyrinthine plot against his life, his body is trapped within severe Veretian clothing, his natural bodily reactions are trapped and repressed to prevent any of his emotions from showing, and he is trapped within his own mind, forced to constantly think strategically and live in perpetual mistrust of everyone, including his allies. On the other hand, as a typical herculean warrior in a fantasy novel, Damen’s freedom in his own body drives his life. At times it controls his life; when under stress he witnesses his body taking instinctive action at the expense of his own mind’s rational thought. His mental and emotional distress manifests itself as bodily pain rather than him perceiving it consciously; he often notices that his head hurts, that he has clenched his fists, or that he has stopped breathing when under stress. At other times his faith in his own physicality to solve his problems is exhilarating for the reader. Despite being a slave for a short time, he truly is free in all of the senses that Laurent isn’t, making any descriptions of Laurent’s miserable life of constant repression all the more exhausting to read.




There are numerous unsuccessful acts of revenge throughout the novel, and the author goes to great lengths to show that vengeance does not give the victim true catharsis. In fact the attempt by Govart to gain revenge in Kings Rising for his humiliation by Laurent results in his own death, and the demise of the Regent.


At the start of the story, Damen justifiably hates Laurent since he appears to be cruel, capricious and sadistic for his own cowardly entertainment. Laurent’s abuse of Damen is very specifically targetted as rape or sexual humiliation. Damen at first assumes that Laurent would do this to everyone whom he hates, and that all Veretians are probably also sadistic since the court itself seems such a pit of sin and corruption, with rape presented as entertainment. On Damen’s first night in the slave quarters Laurent threatens to throw him to the guards to be raped and suggests that he would watch, and he does indeed sexually torture Damen on three occasions within the first days of him arriving in Arles. On a second reading it is clear that he has meticulously planned these three acts as means of avenging Auguste’s death. He is paying Damianos back for being indirectly responsible for Laurent’s own rape by killing his only protector.


In their first days together at Arles, Laurent twice accuses Damen of having sex with Kastor, revelling in the obvious revulsion that Damen shows. These verbal attacks are to wreak revenge; they intend to make Damen feel the same disgust that Laurent must feel when accused of having an incestuous relationship with Auguste, a rumour that the Regent has spread to hurt Laurent, to discredit him and possibly to explain Laurent’s strict celibacy so not to draw attention to the Regent as Laurent’s violator. It has the effect of Laurent never publicly mentioning Auguste since his memory is now tainted in the eyes of the court of Arles, and any open grieving by Laurent would be taken as a corrupt sexual longing. At Marlas, Laurent emphatically states to Damen that he did not have sex with Auguste, as if he assumed that Damen believed the rumour, or that it may somehow explain Laurent’s sexual inexperience and his inability to come out of mourning. This shows how strongly the rumour has affected Laurent, and why on meeting Damen he gains a small amount of revenge by making Damen feel outraged at the notion that he and Kastor had sex.


The first time he attempts to hurt Damianos, Laurent has been explicitly forbidden by the Regent from harming the very man who killed his beloved brother and is indirectly the cause of all of Laurent’s suffering. To exact revenge without violating the Regent’s edict, Laurent enters Damen into a gladiatorial match where the victor rapes the loser. Since the Regent sanctions such fights, Laurent cannot be blamed for harming Damen should he be beaten and raped. Laurent has Damen drugged since he is clearly an unmatched warrior; it could be because he wishes Damen to be at a physical disadvantage to Govart, just as Laurent was too small and weak to resist his uncle when he was being abused. After Damen wins the fight, he refuses to rape Govart and accepts the threat of a beating rather than raping a child pet that is offered to him as a reward. What seems to surprise Laurent is how strongly Damianos believes that it is immoral to rape a child even if the child gives his consent. This is perhaps the first time that Laurent considers that he was incapable of consent to his own rape as a child. This is also the point where Laurent realises that Damianos is morally superior to most of the Veretian courtiers, despite being perceived as an animalistic barbarian.


Laurent is able to exact the most shocking and brutal act of revenge in the trilogy when the Regent leaves for a week to hunt. Laurent uses his own body as a lure to encourage Damianos to touch him in the royal baths. Damen is immediately arrested for this transgression and flogged. Before this happens, Laurent mentions the Battle of Marlas and directly states that as an Akielon, Damen deserves punishment for Auguste’s death. Damen doesn’t plead or beg forgiveness during the flogging, taking twice as much pain as a normal man and is ultimately not killed. Laurent watches the event but seems disturbed by his own barbaric actions, and arranges for Damen’s flayed back to be carefully treated by his physician for the following weeks.


Laurent’s final attempt at exacting justice for Auguste is when he happens upon a group of lascivious courtiers in the gardens at Arles and they convince him to offer Damianos as the receiving partner in non-consensual oral pleasure by a beautiful male pet. Laurent agrees, perhaps since he mistakenly believes that Damianos will view this as a rape and be subsequently upset. He instructs the pet on the mechanics of how to bring Damianos to climax because this is the closest that Laurent can probably get to raping Damen himself, and because Damen is furiously resisting becoming aroused and Laurent perhaps wants to prove that he has complete control over him. Again this act of revenge fails because Damen is so promiscuous and so used to receiving sexual pleasure that he does not particularly view this event as a personal violation, and also because he is probably acutely aware of Erasmus’s significantly more brutal rape by Govart moments before. The revenge somewhat backfires since Damen later comments that Ancel’s sexual favours were adequate, and dwells on the frisson of Laurent whispering instructions into his ear, rather than being chastened by the act.


Revenge is ultimately not satisfying for Laurent and he afterwards appears to lose interest in Damen. It is only when Damen begs for kind treatment of his fellow Akielon slaves that Laurent interacts with him again. Laurent as a young teenager appears to have constructed a fantasy image of Damianos as a mindless and violent killer, so he is surprised when Damen shows such disdain for the depravity of the Veretian court and cares for defenceless slaves. Damen also acts as something of a bodyguard when in public with Laurent, saves his life in an assassination attempt, aids him in border duty, and eventually kills an Akielon footman to save Laurent from a crossbow bolt. Rather than exacting revenge, Laurent finds himself fighting his own growing trust in Damen. At Nesson-Eloy Laurent admits that he regrets his treatment of Damen and offers him his freedom once the border attacks are stopped, stating that he admires Damen as he did Auguste. This is an acknowledgement that his cruelty was an unjustified act of vengeance that Damen didn’t deserve.


At the end of the trilogy, Laurent does not exact vengeance over the Regent for his abuse of himself, Nicaise or Aimeric, nor does Damen wish to exact revenge on Kastor for killing their father and murdering his household. After their ordeal, the lovers realise that the only catharsis possible is by meting out justice and moving forward, something that Laurent was incapable of doing while the Regent was alive.


Loyse does somewhat avenge Aimeric’s rape and suicide by giving evidence against her husband who enabled it. She destroys Guion’s public image of being a just and moral Council member before he is presumably executed for treason. The fact that none of the rape victims in the novel exact revenge against their rapist is significant. Many novels involving rape result in the lover of the rape victim attacking the rapist on the victim’s behalf in a protector or rescuer role, or the victim vengefully kills their rapist. However, when recounting how Damen ruthlessly killed a soldier disguised as the Regent at the Battle of Charcy, Laurent states that killing yet more of his family would not allay his pain. At the time Damen does not understand fully what this means; the death of the Regent will not absolve Damen of killing Auguste, nor will it erase what happened to Laurent. A much more sympathetic path for rape victims in literature is to progress forward and to develop their own agency in the plot separate from their victimhood, as is the case in this novel.




It is unclear from the start which of the characters are heroic and which are villainous; the reader becomes aware of the true nature of a character through Damen’s investigation and discovery, often overturning what was previously believed about a character’s apparent motives. Numerous characters change sides according to whomever is in power; Lazar, Enguerran and Guymar all join Laurent’s faction relatively easily once they realise that the Laurent is a strong and legitimate resistance to the Regent. Orlant was believed to be a traitor until he was later revealed to be one of Laurent’s most loyal men, tragically murdered to prevent him from exposing Aimeric’s treachery.


Despite being a conventional heroic fantasy protagonist whom the reader (and eventually Laurent) views as truly good, Damen hides his identity when in Vere because he is considered to be evil by Laurent as well as by the Veretian people, who view him as the bloodthirsty Prince-Killer. The idea that Laurent would ally with and eventually fall in love his brother’s killer is revolting to the Veretians because Damianos is the embodiment of the hatred that they harbour towards Akielos. This is evident in Kings Rising; the inhabitants of Delpha believe that Damianos is evil when villages are burned in his name by the Regent’s mercenaries.


At the start of the novel it is impossible for the reader to imagine how Laurent can be anything other than a spoiled wastrel and a sadist who verbally, sexually and physically tortures Damen. As Damen gets to know Laurent he learns that he is hiding his true nature to have an advantage over his enemies, and uses insults to hide his own fears and hurt. As Laurent travels to the border and his uncle’s influence is lessened, he is revealed to be hard-working, skilled, just, playful, and deeply caring towards the defenceless and helpless. He helps to shelter abused slaves from Akielos, he attempts to protect children when on campaign, and he is loved by horses and hunting dogs. By the end of Kings Rising Laurent sacrifices his life to save Damianos. It is not that Laurent’s character develops dramatically, nor that his initial violence towards Damen is forgiven, rather that Laurent’s brilliance is revealed slowly as Damianos gains more information. The novel is extraordinary in that the reader’s perception of Laurent incrementally changes from evil to truly good simply by uncovering more of the plot, rather than any specific changes in behaviour on Laurent’s part.


Kastor is set up as the major villain from the very beginning, however we do not see him until the closing of Kings Rising, allowing him to remain an unknown terror, increasing the narrative tension as Damen approaches Ios. However we see so little of him that we don’t learn about Kastor’s descent or his intended future plans for Akielos. Damen spends long hours during the novel imagining what his confrontation with Kastor will be like but it is finally an anti-climax when it occurs, since the Regent is such a dominating force that Kastor is largely forgotten as yet another powerless pawn used by the Regent. It is likely that Kastor was a reasonably good brother until Damen’s ascension approached, becoming more receptive to the seductive whisperings of the Regent in the six years after the Battle of Marlas. He seems to have followed a Macbeth-style path of escalating murder after killing his father, but he does not appear to be particularly intelligent or contemplative, being easily manipulated into giving away his kingdom under pretence of joint leadership with the Regent. He petulantly complains that he was driven to regicide and treason because Damianos was given more attention than him. Crucially, he does not marry Jokaste and does not seem particularly interested in her care or that of his son, allowing her to brave danger in Sicyon to thwart Damianos’s attack on Ios while heavily pregnant, so Kastor may have been selfish enough to seek more personal power at the expense of cementing his legacy.


Jokaste is initally a deadly conspirator in the plot to destroy Damianos. When we meet her again in Kings Rising she appears even more despicable, using her own child’s life as leverage to ensure that she is spared. In the closing chapters we realise that she was in fact the only force of good acting for Damen when he was expelled from Ios. Jokaste loved him enough to be viewed by him as a treacherous outlaw and bear the child of his murderous brother, whom she only seduced in order to give Damianos a chance for survival. Knowing that there is no point explaining her motives to Damianos so not to show her weakness for him, and due to the sheer inconceivable nature of her gambit, she never reveals her actions until Laurent frees her. The reader may infer Jokaste’s gambit faster than Damen does; on arrival in Vere Damen muses on why Kastor took the risk of sending him away as a slave rather than simply executing him, and he even comments on the fortuitous use of Akielon slave cuffs as good weapons in a fight and as a large amount of currency on the journey back to Akielos, but he never alights on a theory of why he may have been kept alive or who orchestrated it.


Nicaise is a foul-mouthed and conniving pet who we believe is certainly a villain under control of the Regent. We later see that Nicaise is the key to the demise of the Regent, and without his sacrifice Laurent would never have survived. Nicaise is seen wandering around the palace gardens with Erasmus; it may be that he is protecting Erasmus by using his rank as the Regent’s catamite to prevent Erasmus from being further tortured by the Regent’s guards. Nicaise is later seen trying to contact Laurent immediately after his assassination attempt, either to warn him of the Regent’s plans, or to give him the written confession of Langren the archer, the key to the Regent’s downfall. 


Govart is unequivocally evil; he attempts to rape Damen during a display fight, he rapes Erasmus and probably a number of Akielon slaves, and he is violent, lecherous and destructive on campaign. It isn’t until we hear of his blackmailing the Regent at the end of Kings Rising that Damianos contemplates how he may perhaps have been an ordinary soldier with no villainous intentions until his blackmail drove him into a spiral of corruption.


Aimeric is initially thought to have harmlessly joined Laurent’s faction to gain his councillor father’s attention. However he betrays Laurent and takes his own life in shame after being publicly humiliated. Although he commits treason against Laurent, he is ostensibly a naive and vulnerable youth who was never exposed to the intricate plots and schemes of Arles in the way that Laurent and Nicaise were. Jord speaks up for him by claiming that he is just a manipulated and innocent boy, but he is in fact only a few months younger than Laurent, who has the clear sight and shrewd nature of a man beyond his years.


Councillor Guion at first appears to be an obsequious pawn of the Regent, until we learn that he offered his own son to be raped by the Regent in order to gain power at court. Guion blames Laurent for Aimeric’s death, until his own wife gives evidence against him at Laurent’s trial. He is evil, yet is a feeble enemy in that he himself submits easily to power, yet he willingly used his power over his wife and defenceless child to allow Aimeric to be raped.


The Regent is truly monstrous in that although Guion and Kastor preyed on the defenceless to obtain power, the Regent receives sexual gratification through control of the defenceless. When Damen first meets him, the Regent seems a good man with a wastrel nephew, however this initial assessment does not sit well with the reader. He seems more vain than a kindly uncle would be; despite Laurent eschewing the trappings of monarchy, the Regent wears clothing, decoration and commands public spectacle as a king. Also, the Veretian court is debauched and extravagant, obviously encouraged by whomever is in power, namely the Regent. Laurent avoids court, does not keep pets and does not participate in court entertainment, so we assume that he actively dislikes its debauchery. Regardless of his cultivated image of kindness which fools Veretian nobles like Estienne, the reader knows early on that the Regent is sanctioning barbaric public performances and therefore cannot be good.


When we learn that the Regent has a child pet, it becomes obvious that he is the true antagonist of the story. When Laurent inexplicably spins a complicated story to prevent anyone from suspecting that he has just survived a murder plot, we see the extent of the Regent’s evil, the complexity of his plans, and his true intellectual might. The Regent’s manipulation of Laurent is clear from early on, for example he invokes Auguste as the better of the two brothers often when chastising Laurent. This removes Laurent’s confidence in himself as a future king and ensures that Laurent continues to grieve, rendering him less capable of moving forwards towards kingship and making him a much smaller obstacle to cast aside in the Regent's plot to take the throne. At the start Laurent is only playing the Regent’s games to prevent himself from being disinherited, but even when it is clear that the Regent wants him dead, Laurent is still loath to declare war formally until Damen convinces him to. Laurent never openly speaks ill of his uncle throughout the entire trilogy, nor does he allow any of his soldiers to criticise the Regent.


The reader infers much earlier on than Damen does that Laurent was raped by the Regent as a teenager, yet it is still totally shocking when it is finally explicitly revealed, as are the facts that the Regent has killed Nicaise and raped Aimeric. This is because our access to information about the Regent’s villainy follows a direct reversal of what we learn about Laurent’s heroism, and both occur at about the same rate in the narrative. As Damen discovers more about Laurent’s good qualities through a few dramatic revelations, so the Regent’s evil is uncovered in stark contrast via similar monumental shifts in our perception.


The Regent becomes more ostentatious as his power grows; the retainer at Chastillon implies that the Regent may have discreetly taken Laurent on trips to Chastillon to rape him in the year or two after Marlas, rather than risk discovery by abusing Laurent at the palace in Arles. At the beginning of Captive Prince, the Regent hides Nicaise with other courtiers for the sake of propriety when dignitaries visit, but as his command over the Veretian royal Council grows he disciplines Laurent in public to undermine him, spreads lies of Laurent’s misdemeanours around court, finally waging war and declaring himself King, and flaunting an eleven-year-old catamite during Laurent’s mock trial before the Council. The Regent's death is only mentioned in one brief sentence at the end of King’s Rising. As soon as Laurent finds himself with the support of the Council and the Veretian guard, the Regent becomes powerless and quickly fades into the background as a common traitor, rather than suffering the spectacular retribution that the reader expects, since Laurent wishes only to be free of him.




There are numerous references to the past, and instances where characters make counterfactual speculations on what might have been. Laurent tells Damen on more than one occasion that had Theomedes not been so beligerent then King Aleron and Prince Auguste would not have been killed in battle, and the Veretian Regency would not have been created.


Damen acknowledges that although Laurent’s situation was apparently created by the tragedy of war, Kastor’s treachery was the culmination of a growing jealously that neither Theomedes nor Damen noticed, nor even thought possible. When Kastor is finally killed, Damen recalls Kastor’s brotherly love towards him as a child and imagines what kind of man Kastor might have been had they resolved their rivalry before the Regent gave Kastor the courage or resources to kill his family.


Aside from fantasising on the lives that their respective brothers might have led, Damen and Laurent both fantasise about their hypothetical relationship had they met as youths during peacetime. Damen wistfully imagines courting a shy and bookish Laurent, and Laurent jokes that a much more realistic scenario would be that Damen and Auguste would probably ignore Laurent. They do not mention that this earlier version of Damen would probably have no lasting interest in a shy youth given his sexual appetite as a young prince. Jokaste also thinks about what might have been; she leaves Damen a note stating that she wishes that her child could have been Damen’s and that they could be together in another life.


However many tragic events occur or are recounted over the course of the trilogy, in the end any change to the path of events would probably not conclude with Laurent and Damianos uniting their nations in peace, and certainly would not result in them falling in love. Laurent’s teenage mission to become a fighter worthy of killing Damianos remade him into uniquely the only man that Damianos is capable of falling in love with. Complementing that, the comfort and protection that he received from an enslaved Damianos forces Laurent to acknowledge that his brother’s killer happens to be uniquely the only man with whom he could ever fall in love.


Delpha’s pasts and might-have-beens are also the key to why it has symbolic importance for Damen and Laurent in the novel. Originally Akielon, for a century Delpha was a part of Vere before being ceded to Akielos six years before the events of Captive Prince. It is disputed land and therefore the Veretian and Akielon inhabitants harbour more antagonism for each other than they do anywhere else, yet they also live close together and are culturally more similar than the rest of Vere and Akielos. It is also the reason for the current animosity between Vere and Akielos, and it holds the site of the very battle which killed Laurent’s family, and where Damianos acquired his legendary warrior status and epithet of Prince-Killer. In the distant past it was the centre of the ancient Artesian empire which comprised both Akielos and Vere. This ancient centre comes to symbolise Laurent and Damianos’s eventual unity. Laurent reminisces about playing amongst Artesian ruins with Auguste near Acquitart as a child, and the Battle of Marlas took place on a field full of Artesian stoneworks. Damen and Laurent are reminded about the Kingdom of Artes again when they see more ruins in Mellos, where Damen invites Laurent to spend time with him at his mother’s summer palace outside of Ios which was built on Artesian foundations. By the end of the novel the lovers decide to unite their nations as they originally existed as parts of the Artesian empire of long past.

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An overarching motif is repeated symmetry, with various mirror images, foils and analogues to major characters, plot elements and character interactions. This symmetry is taken to an extreme in this trilogy and is very powerful; as each mirror-pair motif is presented, the reader is led further to believe that Damianos and Laurent are inseparable and that the only satisfactory outcome is for them to be united in victory, or for them to die together.


Damianos and Laurent lead parallel lives: their mothers both died when they were infants, they both doted on their older brothers, their fathers’ deaths were both revealed to them to be murders by family members late on in the narrative, they both had their right to kingship stripped of them unjustly and had to fight to regain their thrones, and they killed each other’s brothers. There is also visual symmetry in that their slave cuffs and the scars on their shoulders are mirror images of each other’s. The novel’s opening and closing is also symmetrical; it begins and ends in the slave baths of Ios with the sound of ringing bells proclaiming a new king.


There is a grim symmetry in the couple’s mutual violation; Damen and Laurent perform unforgivable acts on each other. Damianos kills Laurent’s beloved brother which leads to Laurent’s childhood rape and adult disinheritance, and Laurent flogs Damen until he is almost dead. Neither of them explicitly apologise nor ask for forgiveness for their acts, but both do show regret and wish that they had acted differently. Moving past the pain that they inflicted on each other, yet acknowledging that it will never be forgotten, is a major turning point in the development of their love. Many romantic novels gloss over acts that would make a character irredeemable in any other novel, but in this case the scars on Damen’s back will never leave him, nor will the scars on Laurent’s heart.




The most obvious visual contrast is that the princes are opposites in appearance: Damianos’s bronze skin, dark hair, and imposing height and physique contrasts strongly with Laurent’s pale skin and hair, and his lithe and athletic physique. Both are paradigms of male beauty; Damen resembles the ancient Greek ideal athlete (e.g. Discobolus, Riace bronzes), and Laurent resembles northern European ideals of male chivalry (e.g. knights in Malory’s Le Mort D’Arthur).


Despite both being highly intelligent and skilled warriors, the princes have complementary control of body and mind. Damen has the balletic physicality of a perfect warrior whose body is trained for action, and Laurent has a scheming mind and quick tongue to plot and persuade his way through the perils of his life in Vere. In fact, Damen is so at the mercy of his body that he sometimes cannot control his actions and awakens from rage-induced frenzies to find himself surrounded by dead bodies, or in possession of a sword, or having fought off attackers without truly knowing what he has done. Laurent however uses his mind to keep his body tightly controlled. Even under the effects of an Akielon pleasure drug he is able to hold a debate over many hours with the Veretian Council. He can will himself to not eat or sleep for long periods, and even when in agony from a shoulder wound he is able to win a gruelling okton and to force himself to fight Damen almost to the death in the training arena at Marlas.

The princes’ childhood and youth are in stark contrast. Laurent was largely ignored by his father because he was bookish and timid, and appeared to have no friends apart from his much older brother. Damianos however was prepared for kingship by a proud father and was surrounded by friends, family and a nation who lavished attention on him. What little is mentioned about the older brothers during this time contrasts strongly too; for example Auguste adored his younger brother and let him win at horse races, whereas Kastor stabbed Damen out of spite during a sparring match on his thirteenth birthday. As adults, Damen has support from Nikandros and the unwavering loyalty of bannermen and footsoldiers of the Akielon army. Laurent is so utterly alone that he finds his arch-enemy and brother’s killer to be his closest counsel, and rides with an army who freely admit to disliking him, and is even betrayed by one of them at a vital point in his campaign against the Regent.



Slave cuffs: The first and most significant pieces of jewellery that we see are the Akielon royal slave cuffs and collar that Damen wears. Damen is much larger than a slender body slave and his cuffs must contain of a vast amount of gold. Despite being extremely valuable, they are a symbol of Damen’s degradation from a prince to a bed slave, and they restrain him to iron links on the palace floors. His collar saves his life from a sword thrust to his neck during the Battle of Hellay. By the time he leaves Laurent, Damen feels the urge to keep one of his cuffs on. Being rather obtuse about his growing love for Laurent, he does not really understand his own romantic sentiment until Laurent notices the cuff and asks for the matching one for himself. Damen never declares his love but unwittingly acts in numerous ways which make his love clear to Laurent, the keeping of a hated Akielon slave cuff to remind him of Laurent being one of them. Rather than a romantic and personal exchange of cuffs, Laurent ends up being cuffed publicly in the tense and bellicose atmosphere of a treaty ceremony immediately after a brutal public mass-flogging. The cuffs return as plot elements when Damen is chained to the floor of the slave baths by Laurent to prevent him from intervening when Laurent kills Kastor.


Slave jewellery: Radel the slave-handler initially dresses Damen for court without jewellery or other beautification because Laurent is known to prefer him unadorned. After Damen gives information to the Regent, he is dressed in large amounts of garish slave jewellery for the occasion of Laurent’s public humiliation as a sign of the Regent's patronage and to further humiliate Laurent. This new jewellery signifies Damen’s transfer of ownership from Laurent to the Regent, as his new potential spy. Damen notices that Nicaise also wears excessive jewellery as a show of his status as the Regent’s pet and to clearly show where his outward allegiance lies. Laurent comments to Nicaise that he looks better without jewellery and paint on their last meeting, hinting that Nicaise would be better off away from the Regent's faction.


Sapphire earring: When in Arles during the events of Captive Prince, Laurent bets Nicaise his sapphire pet earring that he can rescue the Akielon slaves to the safety of the Patran court. Laurent uses the earring to disguise himself as a pet when waiting for a Patran messenger in Nesson-Eloy. Damen is enraptured by Laurent’s act as a playful pet, and muses on the tantalising image of Laurent wearing the earring for some time after. A few chapters later Damen finds Laurent in his room devastated at Nicaise’s death, clutching the sapphire earring.


Lion pin: Erasmus’s escape from Akielos features gold lion brooch pins that are given to the members of the Crown Prince’s household. They are used to identify Damianos’s retinue and slaves so that Kastor can have them murdered during the coup. When Kallias kisses him, rendering him defiled and unworthy for the prince’s bed, Erasmus must relinquish his lion pin, ultimately saving him from being murdered.


Badges: The princes and captains all receive badges of military office when they begin their campaigns, all of them seemingly forshadowing death. Auguste was given a starburst badge from King Aleron before their deaths at the Battle of Marlas. The Regent pins that very same badge onto Laurent before he sets off to the Veretian border, where the Regent intends to have him killed. Jord receives Govart’s captain's badge after he is disgraced, and Damen gets Jord’s old captain’s badge once Jord is stripped of his captaincy for supporting Aimeric. In the palace of Ios shortly after Kastor’s coup, Nikandros finds Damen’s lion badge that Theomedes gave him when he began his military career at seventeen. Nikandros risks being executed by Kastor for treason by taking Damen's lion pin as a keepsake. After Laurent’s trial the Veretian guard soldiers all pull the Regent’s insignia badges from their cloaks and throw them at the Regent’s feet just before he is beheaded.




No formal declarations of love are made as would be expected for a typical marriage, but Damen performs various unconscious acts of loving care that are noticed by Laurent, such as Damen’s unwavering loyalty despite having many opportunities to escape or take Laurent hostage, his selfless protection of Laurent, giving Laurent kind counsel and ensuring privacy for him at times of personal weakness and stress, as well as more obvious actions like killing an Akielon footsoldier to protect Laurent, enduring the disgust of the Akielon army by proudly displaying his slave cuff, and by talking with Laurent about a possible future together, a prospect that Laurent has probably not dared to consider.


There are numerous events in the book that resemble twisted versions of marriage proposals and ceremonies that offer the hope of eventual release for the reader from the unresolved tension between Laurent and Damen, but ultimately create more tension. The first suggestion that Laurent entertains the idea of marrying Damianos is when he reveals to him that he made love to him at Ravanel knowing who he was. He mocks Damen’s anguish by asking him if he were naive enough to expect that Laurent would take him to the Veretian royal marriage consummation.


The most obvious example of a marriage ceremony is when Damianos puts his matching slave cuff on Laurent’s wrist to show Veretian solidarity in a tense public treaty signing. They also crown each other with laurel wreaths after the games at Marlas after a phenomenal joint performance in the okton. Both men invoke the fact that they jointly control Delpha in marriage proposals of sorts, both at times of extreme stress: Damen proposes that they call the border region a kingdom and rule it together, just after finding out that Jokaste’s child is in danger. He waits anxiously for an answer from Laurent before they make love. Similarly when Damen is bleeding in the slave baths after Laurent has killed Kastor, Laurent requests to rule together as one kingdom. He also nervously waits for an answer from Damen, reminiscent of conventional marriage proposals. Laurent describes the Veretian public consummation after they make love at Karthas, suggesting that such marriages between men are not unheard of for Veretian monarchs.


Hinting at traditional marriage politics, it is worth noting that Laurent never makes love with Damianos unless he receives some statement of commitment or submission from him first. The first time that they make love, Damen states that he is Laurent’s slave and Laurent uses that pretence to command him to his bed. The second time, Laurent responds to Damen offering himself as an alternative match to a Patran or Vaskian princess. The third time is after Damen nervously asks Laurent to stay with him for a week at the summer palace in Ios after their battle is over, akin to a honeymoon. At the inn in Mellos, Damen tells Laurent that he wished to have courted him officially before Laurent seems comfortable enough to make love with him again. Whatever feelings of love for Laurent that Damianos has it can be imagined that Laurent reciprocates this manyfold, regardless of how adroit he is at hiding his feelings. For a young rape victim to break half a decade of celibacy to make love with his own brother’s killer is in itself an unequivocal declaration of Laurent’s deep love for Damianos, however he never offers equivalent outward shows of commitment to Damen until the closing conversation of Kings Rising.




The plot featuring moving armies and sacrificial pawns is reminiscent of chess. Damen begins to stop questioning Laurent’s motives and strategies as he spends more time with him, likening him to a chess player thinking many moves ahead and calculating all possible outcomes. Laurent comments often that they are playing his uncle’s game, and on one occasion he even states that they are on his uncle’s board and they are all merely his uncle’s pieces to be passively manoeuvred into position. The second book itself is called Prince’s Gambit, suggesting that the actions of the two armies are comparable to a game of chess, with heavy losses required to protect the princes. The Akielon strategy of specifically targetting the king at the expense of the infantry and horsemen is the definition of chess.


The fact that Laurent navigates his life with the Regent as a series of games is apparent in the way that he makes a casual bet with Nicaise where the stakes are the safety of twenty-four tortured Akielon slaves. In Nesson-Eloy Laurent tells Damen that he enjoys the game when they make their rooftop escape, and he deliberately loses a card game to add verisimilitude to his role as a dim pet, and to win a cap to hide his blond hair from pursuers. He also teaches a Veretian child a coin trick to calm her after her village is burned, and uses the okton game to bind the Akielon army to him.




Just as the Akielon royal family crest is the lion, Damianos is regularly compared to great beasts during his time with the Veretians. His imposing physique and his rebelliousness as a slave results in him being compared various animals: a dog, a beast, a boar, a stag and a warhorse. In contrast, descriptions of Laurent tend to compare him to inanimate and unchangeable natural objects, similar to his crest, the starburst. He is most often described in terms of cold weather and stone: ivory, alabaster, marble, pearl, sphalerite, sapphire, iron, quicksilver, arctic, ice, frost, snow, pellucid, stormy, limpid, the sky etc. This refers to Laurent’s pale hair and blue eyes, and his rigid control over his body and emotions to the extent that he is considered bloodless and cold. He is also referred to as a snake, a viper, a scorpion, a reptile, a panther, a leopard, a bitch, acidulous, i.e. cunning, dangerous and cold-blooded. The contrast of heat and cold, and red and blue, relating to Damen and Laurent's heraldic colours respectively, occur often through the narrative (c.f. fire and ice motifs in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre).




Damen and Laurent are the physical embodiment of their respective nations; Akielos is a strong military power with a proud national identity that spans centuries, and Akielons are simplistic and carefree people who uphold their old traditions. Vere is a defeated nation, politically complex and volatile with an outward serenity and charm that belies the constant motions of an unstable battle for power.


There are many sensuous descriptions of fabric, costumes and clothing throughout the books, in particular contrasting the simple flowing elegance of Akielon dress and the functional strength and crudeness of Akielon armour directly with the sumptuous brocades of Veretian courtiers and the elaborate plates and rondels of the Veretian military. This contrast is also present in architecture, where the royal palace at Arles is described in such lengthy detail that it is almost a character in itself (c.f. vivid descriptions of architecture in Mervyn Peake’s 1946 fantasy Gormenghast, and Victor Hugo’s Notre-Dame de Paris), with labyrinthine corridors and eerie crenellated buildings contrasting strongly with the bare pillared simplicity of the great Akielon royal palace at Ios, where the natural beauty of the battered chalk cliffs and sea are as much of the palace’s architecture as the unadorned marble. Both styles are beautiful and complementary as the two halves of the original Artesian nation, and by the end of the novel Damianos and Laurent mirror this as two different yet perfectly complementary idealised visions of how a monarch, friend or lover should be. At the start of his adventure, Damen compares the maze-like corridors and the functionless arabesques of the palace at Arles to the scheming Veretian mind. As he journeys through Delpha he finds himself feeling sadness at the wanton destruction of the ornate Veretian great fort architecture and tapestries, to be replaced by bare Akielon stone and flat unadorned space. He has slowly become sympathetic to both cultures and cannot return to the parochial mindset that he had as a prince.


Neither of the princes seem interested in wearing the accoutrements of their rank. Damianos wears plain Greek chitons at court and simple breastplates and leather skirts in battle, with little other than his height to identify him from other Akielon soldiers. As with Damen’s height, Laurent’s distinguishing feature is his pale hair, and he therefore does not need princely ornamentation to be identified. Contrasting to Damen’s simple and unremarkable attire, a lot of emphasis is placed on Laurent’s clothing throughout the novel because it is a window into his feelings about himself. It is described in detail early on as a statement of his monastic lifestyle; he does not wear the ornamentation of a prince, but favours simple dark blue doublets and trousers with no embroidery, only wearing a thin diadem on state occasions. He is always completely covered from neck to wrist and prefers to be physically restricted in tightly laced formal clothing. In contrast, Damen’s clothing can be removed instantly simply by unclasping a brooch at his shoulder, and he has no fear of nakedness and does not attach notions of impropiety to it. This emphasises Laurent’s strict control of his emotions, his habits and his body reactions, and is in direct contrast to the sexually uninhibited and flamboyant Veretian court, and also to the naturalistic and carefree lifestyle that Damen has enjoyed. It is hinted that the depraved Veretian court is not a natural expression of Veretian culture, and that the Regent may have cultivated this behaviour in the six years of his Regency, possibly to make his keeping of child pets seem less transgressive. Exploration of the Veretian and Akielon countryside during Prince’s Gambit and Kings Rising suggest that Vere and Akielos in fact have relatively similar cultural practices and perhaps only the nobility are markedly different in their style and culture. It is during this time away from Arles that Laurent becomes more physically uninhibited. He dresses as a woman when hiding in a brothel, and again when impersonating Jokaste on their route to Ios, and hides his hair in a dirty cap that he wins from a cardsharp in Nesson-Eloy. He also wears a chiton and leather sandals when travelling to Ios, a sign that not only is he comfortable with Akielon culture, but that he is more confident, secure with Damen as his companion. The two cultural styles appear to blend as the story continues and the differences ultimately do not matter as the events conclude and it is clear that the two nations may unite. Laurent began the novel as a disinherited captive trapped in his own castle dressed in expensive Veretian laces, he ends the novel as a king wearing a torn and bloodstained chiton.




A major criticism of the novel is the lack of female characters, but this is typical of the genre and perhaps one could argue that the strife in both royal households may be related to the absence of women. The author deliberately states that there are five men and no women on the Veretian Council, and also that the Regent does not like women at court, tolerating Vannes because he needs her to trade with Vask. There are no women of equal rank to the princes; typical fantasy novels at least identify existing female relatives, or potential female political marriage matches, but there are none explicitly mentioned here. It is stated that Queen Hennike would never have allowed a depraved Veretian court had she been alive, so it is worth considering if the Veretian and Akielon courts would have become such hotbeds of intrigue and treason if Queen Hennike and Queen Egeria had lived to rule and given their young sons counsel, rather than them being schooled by beligerent fathers, kyroi and councillors.


Damen’s apparent relationship with women in his life is particularly poor and does not appear to improve as the novel continues. He did not know his mother and does not appear to have had a close relationship with his step-mother, so it is likely that he had no female mentors in his life at all. His formative years consisted of spending time exclusively with kyroi and soldiers in military training, and his only interaction with women appears to be through having sex with female slaves. He does occasionally have sex with male soldiers when they impress him in tournaments or fights, suggesting that he objectifies men and women equally but for different reasons. He believes that he loved Jokaste but does not appear to know much about her, apart from her ambition and her beauty. He was certainly not aware that she loved him, nor would he have trusted her enough to believe her if she were to warn him against Kastor’s treachery. He does redeem himself slightly during Kings Rising when Nikandros sends his best blonde slave to Damen’s war tent. Damen is overcome with nausea when he sees her and sends her away kindly, possibly because he now views her as a nervous young woman rather than as a sex object, but most likely because the thought of making love to anyone other than Laurent is physically repellent to him. He does occasionally value women for attributes other than their looks; he is impressed by the skill and strength of Vaskian warrior women, and he deeply respects the legacy of the ancient queens of Akielos whose statues he sees at the Kingsmeet.

In stark contrast, the only close allies that Laurent has are women, and he appears to get on well with and understand the needs of the women he meets in the Veretian countryside. This may be because, despite the books being set in a non-heteronormative world, he is feminised by other male characters because of his celibacy and may have some affinity with women because of this. Laurent is reviled for being celibate in a world where all of the men around him are regularly engaging in sex; Nicaise has heard court rumours that Laurent's genitals have been damaged, and Govart goes so far as to say that Laurent is not a man since he has no noticeable sexual desire.


Laurent’s main ally in Arles is Vannes, who becomes the head of his new Council and the commander of his armed forces when he goes to Ios. His closest ally during his border campaign is Halvik, the Vaskian clanswoman who is Laurent’s intermediary with the Vaskian Empress. Laurent appears to have developed a strong rapport with Vaskians, something that the other nations’ leaders are unable or unwilling to do. Vask is not described in detail, but appears to have a matriarchal culture that is less technologically advanced than Vere, Patras and Akielos. It is difficult for the other nations to trade with Vask because of the mountainous landscape and the smaller-scale social communities, and both Veretians and Akielons talk of Vask as a dark and uncivilised empire with a bloodthirsty barbarian Empress populated by terrifying women. Laurent however seems to be comfortable with speaking Vaskian dialects, and taking an active part in their cultural practices.  


Laurent manages to get Loyse of Fortaine to testify against her husband at his trial in Ios. In spite of indirectly leading to Aimeric’s death and capturing Loyse’s home, Laurent gets her allegiance possibly by being the only person to have given her sympathy for her dead son. Laurent felt despair at Aimeric’s death and Loyse may have recognised Laurent’s genuine feelings of loss, which could have persuaded her to aid him against the Regent. Everybody travelling to Ios dismissed Loyse as merely an additional hostage and didn’t bother to talk to her, but Laurent valued her as a grieving mother instead of an incidental middle-aged woman. Laurent also appears to simply enjoy spending time with women; he befriends an old Veretian woman and a girl after their border village is burned. He also befriends prostitutes in a brothel whilst hiding, and even disguises himself as one. His most famous disguise also happens to be that of a woman, who is the closest character to him in terms of physical appearance, beauty, guile and wit – Jokaste. The pair instantly have a wary acceptance of each other, and Laurent does not take long to deduce Jokaste’s secret role in protecting Damen.




Damianos’s attitude to his own sexual nature develops significantly during the trilogy. We are told repeatedly that Damianos has a fetish for blond hair, yet he does not see this kind of objectification of his lovers as a negative trait at all. As a young prince he can have sex with whomever he wishes and is subsequently celebrated by his nation for being very promiscuous as a sign of his virility. He is surrounded by enough slaves, court lovers and soldiers that he can simply choose only to sleep with the blonds. He strongly objectifies his sexual partners in other ways too, choosing only beautiful blonde women and only attractive men who approach his martial or sporting prowess. Damianos is so used to people submitting to the request of sex with their Crown Prince that he does not consider that they don’t have a choice, and does not appear to have ever built any lasting friendships with his lovers, viewing the act as a cheerful sport. As the protagonist, his promiscuity and blond fetish are major character flaws, showing us that Damianos has never viewed sex as a means of expressing loving intimacy. He did not appear to have given up his slaves while courting Jokaste, nor did he dwell on the death of his favourite slave, Lykaios. When he first sets eyes on Laurent he immediately objectifies him, marvelling at the probable fortune that he would fetch on the slave-block in Akielos. The novel proceeds to slowly rid Damianos of fetishistic behaviour by preventing him from having sex for long enough that he actually thinks about what he desires in a partner other than their looks, and what he could possibly offer them other than sexual gratification.


At the start of Captive Prince the reader is made aware of Damen’s sexual appetite, and how unaware he is of his own feelings of entitlement to sexual gratification. He is so libidinous that his captors use that knowledge to subdue him, knowing that he is predictable enough to become aroused by a blonde slave washing him even when he is beaten, chained and in dire peril. Aside from the extreme danger that he is in, meeting Laurent throws Damen into a more subtle confusion since it is the first occasion in Damen’s life that someone is actually sexually unattainable to him, and ironic that the most attractive man whom he has ever met happens to irrevocably hate him. He muses on Laurent’s beauty as one would an object, usually contrasting it with his unpleasant character, suggesting that is the first time that he has met an attractive person who hasn't been provided for his pleasure.


All of Damen’s sexual experiences in Vere appear to confuse him because they are driven by motives other than the mutual gratification that he is used to in Akielos. His first exposure to a sexual situation in Vere is a near-rape in a gladiatorial fight, the second is when a naked Laurent tempts him into being almost beaten to death, the third is when he is given oral pleasure by a pet who is using him to win favour with higher-ranked courtiers than his current master, and the fourth is when he is used as breeding material by a group of Vaskian women. The fact that he is a prince who has never had sex in exchange for power or as part of a political transaction shows that despite being promiscuous, he is too noble to contemplate using his power to gain sexual favours and genuinely believes that all of his partners were willing.


Attuned to frequent casual sexual encounters, Damianos isn't particularly affected by being chained and orally pleasured by Ancel. In contrast, Laurent at best views this as a means of having some power over Damen, and at worst sees it as a vengeful rape. When he is commanded to wash Laurent in the baths in Vere, Laurent knows that Damen is such a terrible actor and has such a large sexual appetite that he does not view washing one's master as a servile chore as a slave ought to, but as an offer of sex from Laurent, despite the fact that Laurent has never shown any inclination to have sex with him or with anyone else. Damen is brought out of lascivious behaviour by being flogged almost to death, after which he is so terrified of approaching Laurent, and he has no opportunities nor any inclination to have sex with anyone because of his predicament, that his sexual exploits from his life as crown prince remain in his past. The next time that he has sex, he is drugged and used to impregnate a group of Vaskian clanswomen in Prince’s Gambit, an encounter which objectifies him to the extent that he is reduced to the status of breeding stock with no choice in whom he has sex with nor the fate of his potential offspring. However he does not reflect on this at all, viewing the encounter as a good experience.


As his relationship with Laurent develops he willingly gives up a rare opportunity to have sex by refusing the Vaskian women on their second meeting. Since Damen is not a particularly introspective narrator, he initially attempts to dismiss his newfound admiration for Laurent as a product of their enforced proximity. During Prince's Gambit he becomes increasingly captivated by Laurent’s physical beauty, but more in combination with his praise of Laurent’s honesty, intelligence and martial excellence, which is being revealed to him as they spend more time together. Laurent and Damen are described as being remade and reformed after they make love for the first time; the act is life-changing for them both, and is a sign that sex is no longer merely a pleasurable sport for Damen, but a deeply personal moment of tender intimacy with Laurent alone. By the time that Damen is reunited with Nikandros, Laurent has become much more than a mere blond to him. It is all of these revealed facets of Laurent’s nature that break Damen out of seeking fetishistic and superficial sexual encounters. The second time that he and Laurent make love, at the Akielon fort of Karthas, he offers himself to Laurent as a suitor, the opposite from the licentious prince that he was before arriving in Vere.


Despite Damen’s fetish for blonds being far less horrific than the Regent’s fetish for young boys, both behaviours highlight how neither the Regent’s victims nor Damianos’s sexual partners had a choice. Damen’s time as a slave allows him to contemplate this, and he eventually enters into a committed monogamous relationship and disavows slavery in Akielos. In contrast, the Regent becomes more brazen in his use of catamites as the trilogy continues.

Chapter Text

Other male couples are presented in each book of the trilogy as foils to Damen and Laurent, and to highlight particular aspects of Damen and Laurent’s relationship.


Torveld and Erasmus: Captive Prince features this sweet and loving couple, who are depicted as an ideal master and slave. They emphasise the healing effects of intimate care that Laurent has been starved of until he meets Damianos. Erasmus, despite being a sex slave, is innocent and extremely vulnerable. He has been traditionally trained with monastic religious ritual in the royal Akielon male slave community, where his duties as slave are more reminiscent of BDSM culture than conventional sexual slavery. He is submissive to the point that he is incapable of life as anything other than a slave, but expects perfect treatment from his master, as do all Akielon bed slaves. Despite the extreme power imbalance in their relationship, Torveld and Erasmus are clearly in love from their first meeting, and by Prince’s Gambit it is hinted that Torveld is dismantling Erasmus’s slave training and encouraging him to be independent, with the likely intention of freeing him. Erasmus and Torveld’s slow and careful courtship also parallels Damen and Laurent’s first intimate moments, both involving an older partner with multiple only positive sexual experiences gently courting a vulnerable rape victim. Damen and Torveld discuss Erasmus’s rape at the hands of Veretian guards; despite Erasmus being very willing to make love with Torveld, his body reacts negatively and Torveld insists on not making love to Erasmus until he has recovered from his trauma. This is similar to when Damen and Laurent first make love. Laurent as a another victim of rape is very willing to make love with Damen but his body reacts with tension and fear. It is their last night together and they do not have the time, political peace nor the immediate safety that Torveld and Erasmus had, so the couple proceed to make love believing that it will be their only time of intimacy, with Damen wishing that they could have met as princes during peacetime to court conventionally.


Torveld is also useful as an example of an ideal second prince. He is the same age as the Regent and looks very similar to him, however he supports and honours his beloved brother the King of Patras, exactly the opposite to how the Regent treated his own brother. Moreover, Torveld allows the reader to envision what Laurent may have grown up to be like as a second prince if Auguste had lived; Torveld is kind to all regardless of social status, and seems to be a good diplomat and statesman.


Erasmus also represents the version of Laurent that Damen thinks that he desires at the beginning of Captive Prince. The only graceful young men that Damen has known are sex slaves, so he is offended by how Laurent can have such beauty yet be so scheming and poisonous. He sees Erasmus as an analogue of Laurent in looks but without the power or guile. Erasmus is fragile, eager to please, and relishes the protection of a powerful master, exactly how Damen wishes young beautiful men to be, and exactly the opposite to Laurent. Later on during the events in Delpha during Kings Rising we meet another slave, Isander, whom Damen momentarily believes would be an ideal lover for Laurent. He is analogous to Damianos in his classical dark Akielon looks, but isn’t a muscular prince-killing soldier. Damianos is plagued by jealousy when Isander attends Laurent in public, but since his character has developed significantly since Captive Prince, he acknowledges that he merely feels jealous because Isander is able to be close to Laurent.


Jord and Aimeric: Prince’s Gambit follows the developing love between Aimeric and Jord, whose relationship mirrors that of Damen and Laurent’s mentor/protege relationship once Damen gets somewhat promoted to steward and tactical advisor to Laurent. Jord guides Aimeric through the rigours of border duty and protects him from other soldiers. Similarly Damen’s intelligence and experience in battle are vital to Laurent’s survival during his campaign against the Regent. Both relationships feature a youthful beautiful aristocrat new to military life receiving education and sexual experience from a caring older soldier. This is a direct parallel to ancient Greek erastes/eromenos martial homosexual relationships.


As Laurent and Aimeric are both manipulative and cunning, so Damen and Jord are both loyal, straightforward and forgiving to a fault. Damen and Jord admire each other as fighters and quickly establish a strong friendship on campaign. As Damen is simply too honest to detect deception, similarly Jord was easily deceived by Aimeric’s treachery and spoke up for him even when he was arrested as a traitor. Because he respected Damen’s integrity so much, Jord feels personally betrayed and furious on Laurent’s behalf on finding out Damen’s true identity, although it does not appear from his actions that he is concerned that Damen is plotting to overthrow Vere, but simply that Laurent has apparently unwittingly fallen in love with his brother’s killer. Jord is as forgiving as Damen is; by the end of Prince’s Gambit he ascertains that Damen truly loves Laurent, and decides to keep Damen’s secret and gives him time to leave for Akielos to prevent hurting Laurent.


Pallas and Lazar: In Kings Rising, Pallas and Lazar are soldiers who become lovers specifically because they are physically attracted to each other, despite the obstacles of being from antagonistic armies and not speaking each other’s language. This reminds us that Damianos and Laurent are drawn together by a strong mutual physical attraction as well as their deep care for each other. Damianos is strongly attracted to people with blond hair, and occasionally to men known for their athletic prowess and martial skill, qualities that Laurent effortlessly shows off. It is not known if Damianos himself is attractive since there are no detailed descriptions of his looks given, nor is it known what kind of physical traits Laurent finds attractive, or if he considers them important at all. Nevertheless Laurent clearly finds Damen’s physical strength and skill as a warrior impressive during Prince’s Gambit, and his regular mockery of Damen’s height and musculature suggest that he finds Damianos’s body attractive. Pallas and Lazar also highlight the fact that Akielon and Veretian culture are not particularly incompatible. Both men appear at ease when within the other’s cultural confines, suggesting that the perceived differences between duplicitous Veretians and barbaric Akielons are probably exaggerated as an effect of being at war. This prepares us for the possibility that Damianos and Laurent will eventually unite the nations and resurrect the old empire.




Laurent, Nicaise and Aimeric: The three have all been abused by the Regent and none of them have achieved any kind of redemption. Both Nicaise and Laurent hide their nature and what they care about fro the Regent. Nicaise is outwardly antagonistic to Laurent, likely because they independently wish to hide the fact that they are friends, given how closely both are watched by the Regent. When the Prince’s Guard leaves for border duty, Nicaise’s farewell to Laurent betrays his desperate fury and hints at his own fears of being left alone in Arles, and he does not show the gloating triumph that we would expect from a foe. Indeed, Nicaise boasts about how long he has managed to stay in favour with the Regent despite being too old for his tastes, implying that he could only have remained at court for so long because of his manipulation and cunning. Laurent also hides what he cares about, even schooling Damen early on that showing outward concern about the Akielon slaves is offering his enemy an advantage over him. Laurent slouches and idles in public to hide his dedication to swordsmanship from his uncle, he pretends to Damen that he rode his horse to death for the sake of vanity, and he dismisses border duty by proclaiming that he is a coward, none of which could be further from the truth.


Nicaise and Laurent are aware that they are very similar in both their cunning intelligence and prickly temperament, most likely because of the Regent’s treatment of them, resulting in something akin to brotherly love despite their public feud. The similarity in their quick wits and sharp tongues suggests how that the Regent has had a role in developing Laurent’s and Nicaise’s personalities during the time spent with him, but he never manages to control their minds. Both Nicaise and Laurent could have been schooled into choosing self-serving paths: Laurent could have relinquished his birth-right or escaped to exile, for example by offering himself to Torveld in exchange for patronage, and Nicaise could have helped to destroy Laurent to remain in favour with the Regent for longer. However both take the significantly more difficult path of acting for the good of the nation of Vere. Despite being the child of a poor family whored out to the Regent for three years, and having his life filled with sexual depravity, deception and manipulation, Nicaise’s bravery and his innate sense of justice ultimately helped Laurent to overthrow the Regent. Nicaise’s brutal murder devastates Laurent, who believes that his vying for Nicaise’s loyalty was the cause of his death.


Aimeric, having been rejected by the Regent after a short period of abuse at Fortaine, has had less contact with the Regent and is therefore more naive and is not aware of how dangerous he is. He is easily manipulated by the Regent as an adult by the promise of being reinstated as his lover if he helps to destroy Laurent’s campaign. Aimeric did realise in his final days alive that he had actually given up on a truly loving relationship with Jord for a non-existent relationship with the Regent, but tragically Jord never had the agency to save Aimeric in the same way that Damianos could for Laurent. Aimeric is the same age as Laurent, and it is hinted that the Regent was abusing them both at the same time when they were young teenagers, possibly before he was powerful enough to openly take a child pet.


Aimeric’s capture is a significant plot element in that it is the driving force for Laurent deciding to make love to Damen after the fort of Ravanel is won. After taking the fort, Laurent is depicted as genuinely happy for the first time in the narrative. Agreeing to part as friends, he and Damen share what is possibly Laurent’s first ever kiss on Ravanel’s battlements but are interrupted by news of Aimeric’s impending rape by Veretian soldiers as punishment for his treachery. As if the Regent and his victims always cast a shadow over his happiness, Laurent erupts into uncharacteristic fury and publicly taunts Aimeric about his abuse until he breaks down. It is clear that Laurent’s degrading remarks are what he feels about his own abuse and his inability to ever get away from the Regent’s torment. After this confrontation Laurent orders his servants to bring Damen to his chambers and commands him to make love with him. It is likely that his encounter with Aimeric galvanised Laurent to try to break free from the hold that the Regent has over him by finally seeking a sexual experience with someone else, and by finally acting on his burgeoning love for his caring companion who is conveniently still officially a slave. The morning after Laurent and Damen make love at Ravanel, Laurent finds that Aimeric has taken his own life in shame. Laurent learns of Aimeric’s death seconds after he learns of Nicaise’s, which leads him to such despair that he almost ends his campaign by inglorious death at Charcy until Damen pleads with him to split the armies for a strategic attack.

Laurent, Kallias and Jokaste: All three play desperate gambits that will at best destroy their own lives for the sake of their lover. Erasmus describes life with his childhood friend Kallias, who is being trained as a slave for Prince Kastor at the same time that Erasmus is being trained for Damianos. It is implied that neither Akielon princes are particularly interested in having sex with men so the two slaves are largely there to provide court entertainment such as epic poetry and lyre recital as a status symbol for the royal family. During the coup and enslavement of Damianos which results in his household servants being murdered, Kallias gives up his love, and probably his life (since Kastor orders the death of any of his own servants who have knowledge of the plot), to get Erasmus sent to Vere. Kallias’s actions are remarkable since he is a slave and is by definition an object with no agency at all, trained for his whole life to be submissive and not to act independently. Even if Kastor did not disrupt the Akielon monarchy, both Kallias and Erasmus would be forced to languish as decorative male slaves with no possibility of acting on the love that they clearly feel for one another. The tragedy of Kallias and Erasmus’s relationship leads the reader to conclude that all forms of slavery are inherently bad since they deny slaves of fundamental needs regardless of how privileged a life they may lead. Laurent argues this passionately during Kings Rising when considering Nicaise’s choices as a royal pet.


Jokaste, as a female member of a patriarchal Akielon court with no power other than her beauty, goes to extreme lengths to play a shocking gambit which leaves her a traitor to both brothers and an outlaw for the rest of her life, with a disinherited child. It is likely that she loved Damianos so much that she was willing to do anything to prevent him from being killed, and manipulated Kastor into sending him to Vere since that plan appealed to the Regent at the time. Perhaps she knew that Damianos would be resourceful enough to eventually ally with Prince Laurent and regain their thrones, but it was a desperate sacrifice that cost her everything. She hides this when she is discovered at Karthas, but Laurent quickly understands what she has done, probably because he and Jokaste both think alike and because both admit to being in love with Damianos when they talk in the dungeons. This allows us to understand how Laurent himself is willing to play a selfless gambit in his mock trial; he gives up his life to regain Damianos’s throne for him by calling Loyse of Fortaine as a witness to regicide by Kastor, but he has no way to save himself from death. Laurent’s situation is in some ways the least disagreeable in that Kallias and Jokaste are both believed to be lying and traitorous by their lovers. Although Damianos eventually realises that Jokaste has given up her future for him, it is not known whether Erasmus ever finds out about how Kallias saved him from death during the Akielon coup.


Laurent and Jokaste: This pair look so alike that Laurent successfully impersonates Jokaste on the journey to Ios. They also seem to have a grudging respect for each other. Both are in love with Damen to the extent that they are willing to sacrifice everything for him, and both use their beauty and cunning to achieve what their physical strength cannot. The striking similarity between Laurent and Jokaste at first suggests that they could be interchangeable as lovers for Damianos. It is at first easy to imagine that Jokaste and Damen could have been a perfect king and queen if they had not met at the wrong time, when Damen still had the narrow mindset of his father’s generation and was unwilling to trust her to protect him from Kastor. It was only Damen’s experience as a slave, an honorary Veretian, and becoming attuned to Laurent’s hidden hardships that allowed Damen to change into the fair and unbiased king that he certainly was not at the start of the novel. It is indisputable that Damianos truly loves Laurent in a way that he could never love Jokaste, precisely because of the intense emotional conflict that the princes present each other at the start of the trilogy, which imperceptibly transforms into an existential need for each other as the novel concludes. As enemies in Arles, their relationship has a strange intensity caused by Laurent's teenage obsession with Damianos combined with Damen's mixture of hatred and desire for his captor. At the beginning of the novel, Damen boasts that he endured three months of courting games before Jokaste allowed him to finally make love with her. This is almost exactly how long it took for Damen and Laurent to make love after first meeting, bearing in mind that Jokaste and Damen publicly courted as carefree aristocrats during peacetime, in contrast to Damen and Laurent falling in love despite both trying desperately to deny and suppress their growing attraction during a perilous war campaign after having committed horrific acts of personal trauma against each other, whilst knowing that at best they are destined to remain apart as rival kings, and at worst they are to be killed.


Damen and Nikandros: As Damen’s childhood best friend and his strongest supporter, Nikandros represents the family love that Damen enjoyed as a child, and his thoughts echo the mindset of the Akielon people. When we meet Nikandros in Kings Rising, he shows Damen a letter sent from Laurent when in Arles, showing that Nikandros was willing to wage war with the Regent in exchange for evidence that Damen’s death was at Kastor’s hand. The desire to go to war for his dead friend shows Nikandros’s love for Damen. We also see how deferential Nikandros’s men are around Damen as an example of how absolute his rule is; the Akielon kings are practically deified by their people in a way that the Veretian monarchs are not.


As well as representing the Akielon people, Nikandros is also an image of Damen himself before his enslavement. After spending time as a slave, Damen takes time to adjust to his new power despite being prepared for it for his whole life. When they are reunited, Damen is struck by how different their viewpoints are after his time in Vere, and it shows the reader how much Damen has changed since his enslavement. When he first sees Laurent's blond hair and beautiful face, Nikandros immediately believes that Damen’s sexual appetite has led to Laurent seducing his way towards a free army, the province of Delpha, and possibly even Akielos itself. It is only through more exposure to Laurent that Nikandros realises that he is not prostituting himself for an army, and is a worthy leader who is genuinely in love with Damianos. This gives the reader hope that the Akielon people will eventually approve of the means by which their king has returned.

Chapter Text

Given that Akielos is inspired by ancient Greece, the author uses themes and literary devices that are common in Greek literature. Ancient Greek drama usually covered a few grand themes, the most common being the impact of war, the needs of the state versus those of the individual, the nature of barbarism, and gender roles and relationships. All of these are explored in the course of the trilogy.




The trilogy is memorable for having three incidences of Greek dramatic irony (typically only one is necessary in Greek drama, but three gives the reader a much stronger feeling of upheaval and eventual satisfaction when Damen’s challenges are resolved). The first occurs at the end of Prince’s Gambit when Laurent, in fury and distress at the deaths of Nicaise and Aimeric, reveals that Kastor murdered King Theomedes and enslaved Damen with the Regent's help. Damen is so shocked that he does not allow himself to even think about it, and still does not really acknowledge it even when Kastor stabs him whilst trying to escape from the palace. The second is at the beginning of Kings Rising, when Laurent tells Damianos that he always knew who he was. This does not change the plot in particular, but puts Laurent’s horrific torture of Damen in Captive Prince into perspective. The third incidence of dramatic irony is when Damen learns that Laurent was raped by the Regent as a child in mourning. Damen does not suspect any of these revelations because we know that Damen is incapable of detecting secrecy and deception in others. We also know that often he totally avoids thinking about things that offend his innate sense of honour and magnanimity, such as believing that family members could possibly be anything other than caring and kind. These three key pieces of information throw him into turmoil, but he consciously forces himself not to think about them at all to prevent himself falling into a fit of despair or blind rage which could jeopardise himself and Laurent.


1. Kastor and the Regent are co-conspirators: The fact that Damen is sent to Vere at all leads the reader to suspect a plot between Akielos and Vere, however at the start of Captive Prince Damen is still reeling in shock at being enslaved and his thoughts are on why Kastor has hurt him, blinding him to any conspiracy. The Regent asks on numerous occasions if Damen has slept with Laurent, and if he can become a spy for him, which leads the reader to believe that the Regent may have been complicit in Damen’s enslavement purely as a means to destroy Laurent. Laurent probably deduces Damen’s entire guileless psyche from their very first conversation, where Damen seems genuinely perplexed as to why Kastor enslaved him, speculating that he must have angered him in some way. Once they fall in love Laurent apologises for keeping the conspiracy from Damen, but says that that Theomedes killed his family so he doesn't regret his death. After giving up on torturing Damianos to death, Laurent may have later made the decision to free him knowing that Damen's fate was tied to his own, and that the Regent would have the Akielon throne by the time Laurent amassed a force to fight him. He may have therefore intended to deliberately hand Damen over to Nikandros to fight the Regent in Ios without Laurent having to. After realising that Damen’s tactical brilliance is vital to his own survival on campaign, Laurent grants him any favour apart from freedom itself until the Regent arrives in Ios.

2. Laurent immediately recognises Damianos: Laurent probably hid his knowledge to have an advantage over his uncle, whom Guion speculates wanted Damianos and Laurent to kill each other, or wanted Laurent to inadvertently sleep with his brother’s killer and be driven to insanity or suicide when being told of his identity. When Damen begs Laurent to take him to the border, Laurent requires time to think and it appears that he wove Damen into his own plans during this time, such as writing to Nikandros with the intention of eventually using Damianos to bolster support from the Akielon army. Also, Laurent has aristocratic Veretian attire sewn for Damen while still in Arles; it may be that he planned to use Damen as a bodyguard or at least involve him in some subterfuge during the spell on the border. At Nesson-Eloy, Laurent directly asks Damen what caused him to be enslaved by Kastor, possibly because he finally felt capable of enduring the realisation of who Damen was. Had Damen confessed at that time, Laurent would have had to acknowledge his alliance with the Prince-Killer and probably would not have had the courage to act on his love for Damen.


The revelation that Laurent knew Damen’s identity is anticlimactic for Damen since he was initially terrified of Laurent having him executed, and later was wracked with guilt for making love with Laurent whilst pretending to be a mere soldier. It may be that Damen was wilfully ignoring the fact that Laurent knew who he was. There are many examples in the books where Damen could easily deduce that Laurent knows his identity but he perhaps deliberately fails to acknowledge it, the most powerful being when they make love at Ravanel, and Laurent reverently traces his fingers along the length of Damen’s scar from the wound inflicted by Auguste at Marlas, as if Damen himself is the last remaining physical connection that Laurent will ever have to Auguste.


As they arrive at Marlas, the site of Auguste’s death, Laurent appears to become increasingly tormented by his own disgust at being in love with his brother’s killer, and seems to believe that Damen is only interested in him for sex. During their time in Delpha Laurent makes subtle private insults at Damen in scenes that are chillingly reminiscent of Laurent’s relationship with his uncle, and at one point tries to kill Damen in the training arena. Laurent finally seems to make peace with the fact that he is in love with Damianos when he comforts himDamen on finding out that Jokaste plans to use Damen’s child as a bargaining tool for her escape. It may be at this point that Laurent secretly decides to give up his life to save the child and to aid Damen’s cause.


3. Laurent’s rape by the Regent: Damen is wilfully ignorant of this since he is known to have a specific character trait where he seems incapable of believing that family members could be dangerous or hurtful. Damen is very intelligent and is presented with ample evidence and many opportunities to investigate why Laurent and the Regent have such a unique antipathy, and why Laurent is so repressive of his own physical needs. He chooses to ignore it, perhaps partly because it is at odds with his ideas about family, and partly because he is so in love with Laurent that he cannot face such a distressing fact about him. When the Regent tells him that he raped Laurent as a child, Damen goes into an unparalleled out-of-body fit of rage that results in him being imprisoned while Laurent is taken to trial. Even when languishing for hours in a cell, Damen cannot bring himself to contemplate the implications of the revelation because it is too horrifying for his mind to accept. At Laurent’s trial he watches emotionlessly, maybe because any thoughts of Laurent’s abuse may drive him to act in anger that would ruin Laurent’s almost impossible chances. Interestingly, despite being a potentially lethal character flaw, it is finally this pushing away of distressing thoughts that gives Damen the clarity to deduce that Paschal holds the key to the Regent’s demise.




Greek plays usually presented the audience with a debate, or agon, where characters must make a difficult choice. The audience is asked to consider what they would do if in the same situation. The main agon in Captive Prince is Damen’s moral decision to help Laurent to fight off his assassins as opposed to helping them to kill Laurent and then escape from the palace. Laurent’s agon is presented when he eventually decides to reject personal honour and accept counsel from his brother’s killer. In ancient Greek society, to ignore a blood feud was considered a terrible dishonour to a family member, and Laurent's anguish at being in love with Damianos is in keeping with this. In Prince’s Gambit, Damen contemplates staying with the man he loves instead of regaining his own kingdom. He almost asks Laurent to order him to stay. The central agon of Kings Rising is Laurent’s decision to die for Damen’s cause. Greek agons tend to centre around relinquishing personal desires for the sake of the nation (e.g. Sophocles’s Antigone), and also highlights the impact of war (e.g. Aeschylus’s The Persians, and Euripides’s Trojan Women). Both of these types of agon are presented in the trilogy.




Aristotle analysed tragic heroes in detail and concluded that the more dramatic the fall in social position of a hero, the more inspiring of pathos they were, and the more release this gave to the audience. Aristotelian tragic heroes are very common in Greek literature (e.g. Ajax and Oedipus by Sophocles). Damen is a future king to a mighty nation reduced to the status of a bed slave. Laurent is a future king who has been reduced to the status of a dishonoured captive fighting for his life as well as his birth-right. This dire situation is very effectively reversed in the course of the novel, and in fact the two princes reach positions more advanced than those that they initially sought; as well as ascending to their thrones, they are in love and will create a new type of society.




Ancient Greeks believed that the right of kings was divine, and anything that upset this connection between Gods and kings was anathema to them. The fact that Aleron and Theomedes were murdered would have been horrifying to an Ancient Greek audience as a direct insult to the Gods. The divine order is restored when it is clear that Damianos and Laurent are championed by their people; both Nikandros and Herode confidently reply “You are my King”/”He is our King” when asked if Damianos or Laurent can be trusted to rule. The divine order of things is also emphasised through Queen Egeria’s bloodline, which connects Damianos to the legendary kings of Akielos. In Greek literature the nobility of a character is often emphasised by tracing their ancestry back to a mythical or divine leader. The ancient kingdom of Artes is highly symbolic to Laurent and Damen, and their decision to resurrect it is a statement that their union is a reconnection to divine legend.




It was a social institution in ancient Greek society for young men beginning their military training to embark on an erastes (ἐραστής, literally “lover”)/eromenos (ἐρώμενος, literally “beloved”) relationship with a slightly older and more experienced soldier to learn about military life, self-sufficiency and sexual discovery. The erastes and eromenos had a strong bond of mutual care, and usually stayed close friends after marriage with women, and throughout their lives. This is strongly implied by Damen’s relationship with Laurent, and also with Jord and Aimeric. It is worth noting that Greece did, and still does, have a culture that is strongly heteronormative and intolerant to homosexual relationships, despite the erastes/eromenos institution existing in antiquity. Erastes/eromenos became less common when the civil rights and social acceptance of women in society increased, and there is almost no Greek literature that talks about it explicitly (e.g. neither Homer's Iliad nor any other ancient Greek works centred around the Trojan War make any comments about whether Patroklos and Achilleas had an erastes/eromenos relationship, simply describing them as good friends). 




Stanzas of Akielon epic poems are recited in the novel, similar to the Ancient Greek tradition of court entertainers reciting the adventures of the gods and mythic heroes of Greece through epic poetry (and similar to the European traditions of travelling Anglo-Saxon poets reciting Beowulf or troubadours singing about the lives of knights in France). At the start of the novel, Damianos's slaves know that he enjoys listening to battle poetry since he revels in the glory of war, and military life is his main arena. Erasmus is disappointed that he must learn battle poems to please Damianos, rather than love poetry which Erasmus finds preferable. As Damen's time spent with Laurent continues and his understanding of the nature of love develops, he finds that he does not want to listen to war epics and finds himself recounting love poetry more often. It is clear that Laurent and Damen’s adventure is the perfect subject matter for an Akielon epic poem, featuring treachery, enslavement, fierce battles, forbidden love, and the forging of empire.




Despite Laurent being a common given name in France, the other Veretian names are not common and have clear origins in Frankish, Norman or Old French, and moreover all of the Greek names in the trilogy are only known from the Bible or from Ancient Greek literature and are extremely rare as given names in Greece today. It is worth remembering that Veretian is not actually langue d’oil and Akielon is not actually Greek, so I found points about pronunciation interesting but of course the reader may pronounce any of the names as they wish.


I do not know if the author has stated the correct version explicitly, but the pronunciation of Akielos may be debated. As a Greek speaker I pronounce it“AK-i-el-os” or more likely “AK-yel-os”, since the word appears to be a direct Roman transliteration of Greek and not an attempt to phonetically describe the pronunciation. Transliteration does not elide vowels, so the “ie” in Akielos would be represented in Greek by letters iota and epsilon, which are not elided in Greek (e.g. the Greek word for okra is bamies (μπάμιες), pronounced “BAM-i-es”). However, the Veretian word for Akielos is given in the novel as Achelos. When following French transliteration of Greek, the original Greek word would be Ἀχηλoς (pronounced “ACH-ee-los” with stress on the first syllable and a soft “ch” as in the Scottish word “loch”). This word would be written as Achelos in English too. There is no similar proper noun in Greek, although it may have been derived from the Greek “Αχιλλέας” for the given name Achilles, or possibly from the Acheloos river in Greece.


The language, people and things pertaining to Akielos in the novel are called Akielon and not Akielosi, Akielosian or something similar. This is probably because the dative, genitive and accusative endings for some nouns in Greek are “on”.


Origins of some Greek nouns are given below:


Kyros: Probably an adaptation of the Greek word for “Mister”, kyrios (κύριος), pronounced “KEE-ri-os”, meaning lord or master. This is used a lot in the Greek Bible to refer to God. The Akielon plural is kyroi, similar to the Greek plural for kyrios being kyrioi, pronounced “KEE-ri-ee”

Okton: Adaptation of the Greek word for “eight”, οκτώ, because the okton course is a figure of eight with eight laps and eight spears per circle

Delpha: Probably from the ancient Greek oracle of Delphi, the most sacred place in all of Greece

Sicyon: Similar to the Greek words sikies and sikion, meaning “of the pines”

Kesus: Romanisation of the Greek town of Kisos on the Pelion Peninsula of Greece

Thrace: Romanisation of the province of Thraki in eastern Greece

Mellos: Romanisation of Melos (Μήλος), one of the Greek Cycladic islands

Ios: Another island in the Cyclades

Aegina: Greek island in the Saronic Gulf (pronounced “EH-yee-na”)

Dice: Romanisation of Diki (Δίκη), the Greek goddess of justice and daughter of Zeus and Themis

Isthima: Adaptation of Isthmia, a city on the isthmus of Corinth

griva: Possibly a combination of italian grappa and Balkan rakia, names for a strong brandy made from distilled grape pomace. This is commonly made at home all over the Balkans and is an acquired taste. It is known as tsipouro and raki in Greece

iron tea:tea made from the ironwort plant (Sideritis in Greek, meaning “made of iron”. Also called “mountain tea” in Greek). Delicious and used to help me get over a hangover