Chapter 2 - Sebastian

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The pendulum clock swayed back and forth, the minute hand moving closer to the number seven. Sebastian's lips trembled as he stifled a yawn. He moved his hand to his chin, letting his weary head rest. Over an hour he had spent listening to Uncle Tom criticising his answers to the letters the Lords and Ladies of their country had written and he had enough.

Not one word of praise had come out of his uncle's mouth. The solutions he proposed were either too short, too elaborate, or plain foolish. He ground his teeth. If he was so bad at it, then Uncle Tom should write his own replies instead of bothering him with it.

"It's a matter of pleasing her with the right words, Sebby. Tell her she's right, then gently steer her towards a union with the Masters down at the port. Deals like these don't happen overnight, they..."

Though Sebastian nodded in understanding, his eyes darted to the road on the other side of the river where soldiers in small groups of five or six were coming home from the army camp. One of the soldiers had long curly hair, just like Alex.

He wasn't her. He could not be. Not only were girls not allowed in the army, but his best female friend was currently miles away from Sundale, just like Nick. Except that he was heading north, and she was riding south.

And he was stuck in the middle. All alone.

"Don't get me started on the letter to Lord Robert, Sebby." Uncle Tom held the paper in between his thumb and index finger, waving it around. "Did you even use your brain when scribbling down your reply?"

"I guess not."

The long-haired soldier jumped on his comrade's shoulder, the two of them falling to the ground in laughter. His heart physically ached to witness so much happiness. The castle had become so dark and mind-numbingly dull since his friends had left. There was no longer any Nick livening up the dinner table with witty comments about Lana's new fictional love, and not more Alex being... Alex. She never had to say anything to make him happy. Her mere presence had been good enough for him.

Uncle Tom snapped his fingers in front of Sebastian's face. "Your frown tells me that whatever cloud you're floating on is not a pleasant one. Business is happening right here."

 "I am paying attention!"

"Didn't seem like it."

"What's wrong with my answer to Lord Robert?" Sebastian pressed his lips together and narrowed his eyes. "Maybe he has no gold, but he's offering forty-eight horses, Uncle Tom. They're worth a lot too."

Uncle Tom leant closer, his arms folded on his desk. "Then why doesn't he sell his horses and pay me the gold? Did you ever consider that?"

"No..."

"Another thing." He flicked the paper, then put it on his desk, next to drops of tea he had spilt when swinging his cup around too enthusiastically while discussing the message of Lady Margaret of Banshore. "If it's true what he's saying and his cattle are indeed dying from a mysterious plague, why would I be interested in his horses? Keep illnesses where they're ruling. Fewer chances of spreading."

"Oh, so that's why you're keeping me locked up." His voice scratched, temporarily slipping back into that embarrassing childish pitch. "Because you're afraid I might infect others with those nightmares I keep having during the day."

"Don't be a Muttonhead, Sebby. You disobeyed me. This is the price you must pay."

He huffed. Cutting out his training sessions with Master Paul was a heavy punishment for wanting to tell Alex that he would miss her before she would disappear from his life for moons. His scraped knee and the bump on his head were enough of a reminder that he had acted like the next best Puddingbrain instead of a crown prince.

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