Chapter 24 - Sebastian

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"So the Wanderers don't pay any taxes?" Lana asked River.

"Correct." The prince made an almost invisible nod. He placed his finger on the map of Ice that stood on a chair and encircled the large white space north of Bigtown. "Imagine how much money it would cost us to send envoys up north to track down the Wanderers. And since they use neither reds nor paper, it would be a chase that ends with pelts and burnwine. Besides, the Wanderers...

Sebastian stifled the yawn that had been building up inside of him. He stretched his legs, the tip of his boots touching the table on which his cup of tea was growing cold. Beneath it, on the sun-filled carpet, his sausage pup was stirring in its sleep. Had River been anyone but the future King of Ice, he would have stood up long ago and left the honour of entertaining their guest to Lana and the pup.

"... and that's why we leave the Wanderers be. Like two kingdoms in one."

"But how many of these Wanderers are there?" Sebastian asked, feigning interest.

"Nobody in the last five decades has attempted to count them. Could be anything from a few hundred to a few thousand people," River said.

Lana breathed in. "The population of Main Street in an area that stretches from here to the Port of Diligence. I can't fathom this."

"I can," Sebastian said. "The Forest of—"

A bang came from below the table. The pup had woken up and banged its head.

While Lana cooed, Sebastian laughed out loud. Finally, the Gods were punishing the sausage for peeing at the least convenient moments: on the throne, midway dinner, just as Lady Viviane had dressed him,...

The redemption was short-lived. As if chased by a cat, the pup was racing around the table's legs, tangling its leash. There was no ending to the frightened yipping and yapping as plates of biscuits and fruits clattered on the table. Cups of tea threatened to spill over.

He tugged at the leash. "Stop that!"

The pup bumped into the table's leg, its cry resembling that of a human whimper. Stumbling back up, it hit its head a second time, unleashing howl-like yips.

"Stop!" Sebastian yanked the leash again.

The howling continued.

He sighed. This dog was the bane of his existence.

Grumbling, he got up and crouched by the sausage. But as he reached to unclasp the leash from its collar, the pup bared its teeth and growled.

"You're not a dog. You're a muttonhead," Sebastian grumbled. "Mut-ton-head," he repeated until it cowered to a ball.

Lana clicked her tongue to her teeth. "He's scared of you, Seb. You're torturing the poor thing."

"I'm not. I wanna free it." He turned to River. "You said mountain dogs obey their master. Why isn't mine?"

"Because he doesn't consider you his master," River answered.

"Then, what do I have to do to become its master?"

"A mountain dog is not an 'it'." He dug into the pocket of his trousers, taking out a flat black rock. Out of his boot, he fished out a knife and cut off a piece—it was meat. He handed it to him. "Say his name and give him this."

The pup licked its face as it caught sight of the smokey, rock-hard meat. It placed its paws on his leg and sniffed, trying to reach the snack.

In a panic, Sebastian threw the piece at the animal. The pup's nose bobbed up and down, sniffing. Then, as quickly as Nick eating a biscuit, the meat was gone.

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