“Why is it already sunset?” Sebastian said aloud as he climbed out of the mouth of a cave high above the kingdom of Vastille. Groaning at the darkening sky, he hurried to brush the mud from his pants and boots.
“I wish I never had to go back there. We should just run away and live free in the woods beyond the mountains. At least there we will finally get some peace and quiet. What do you think?” Sebastian said. “Why am I talking to you about this? You are a horse. I think I might be losing my mind.” He said as he patted his horse on the neck. “We better go before father starts screaming again. We wouldn’t possibly want to miss another fun evening of pointless chatter and somewhat edible supper.”
Sebastian mounted his black steed and began descending the mountain pass toward Castle Drake, his family’s home for over two thousand years.
“Sebastian!”, King Ivan yelled loudly. “Where is that boy this time?”
“He has run off again. Off on another adventure I am afraid, my dear.”, Queen Emelia said with a tired tone in her voice.
“It is nearly time for supper! Why is he always off running around? Why can’t he just be like his brothers and sisters for once?” King Ivan said while waving his hands in the air with extravagance. The queen slowly nodded her head and stared off into the distance while pursing her lips.
Sebastian was King Ivan’s 4th eldest child behind the oldest son, Berren, his sister, Nadya, and his older twin brother Tomas. Sebastian was 17 years old at this time and was hugely different from his 12 brothers and sisters. Berren was very militant and followed the rules to the smallest detail. Nadya was a year older than Sebastian, unbelievably beautiful, but also smart and cunning. Most of the boys were afraid of her. Tomas, his twin brother, was quiet and a little shy who enjoyed reading and learning about the history of the lands and his family history.
Sebastian had many younger siblings who, like the older siblings, were disciplined and never stepped over the line. Sebastian however, always played by his own rules. He would wake up early and grab breakfast while running out the back door of the kitchen before anyone could stop him.
Most of his days he spent in the mountains that lined the western ridge of the kingdom. Some days, he would spend hours hunting or climbing trees or climbing to the summit of different mountains, but many times he would find caves to explore which he knew, terrified his father and stepmother.
Sebastian’s mother died shortly after giving birth to his younger brother Viktor. His father married Queen Emelia only a few months after when she became pregnant with his little sister Mary, and she gave birth to the remaining 7 children after. She was a kind and caring stepmother and treated her stepchildren as her own. She was quiet and moved about the castle slowly and stealthy and Sebastian appreciated the fact that she never pried in his business, unlike his father.
“Father, I have taken the liberty to make a list of training routines for my brothers while the summer approaches,” Berren said with a prideful tone as he walked pompously into the office his father would spend much of his time in. “I think that Tomas, Sebastian, Viktor, and Gentry should all work on their swordsmanship, then archery to prepare them for their future with the guard and then they should...”
“I am not going to be a military man.”, Tomas interrupted as he walked into his father’s office with an armful of parchment he flopped down on the desk. “I am going to intern with the magistrate for a few months then most likely off to the Pearl Coast to work directly in the Treasury.” He said with pride. The treasury handled all the kingdoms gold and fortune.
“As requested, father.”, Tomas said as he laid a large map in front of his father that listed the kingdoms and villages in all the land.
As Tomas and Berren watched over their father’s shoulder, Ivan pointed to a small village that sat between two of the smaller mountains to the southern edge of the ridge that separated Vastille and Highcastle.
“I received word that your brother has been spotted in Shadowmire again. That makes the third time after I told him that village is off limits. If he is there again today, I have no choice but to lock him in his room until he learns how to listen.”
Of course, Ivan was speaking of Sebastian. Shadowmire was a trade village where people went to trade in secret, things of a forbidden nature, like weapons, sex, drugs, and to sell slaves. Naturally, Sebastian was curious and would go to drink ale and fight with drunken soldiers that were there for the women and the drink.
“He found a new cave system along the ridge.” Tomas said while pointing to a location on the map. “I know that is where he is spending most of his time as of lately,” Tomas said in defense of his brother. “He said it is the largest cave he has ever seen.”
“When will he learn to grow up?” Berren said. “He is going to get stuck down there one day and I will have to go and fetch him out.”
“As sure as you sound of yourself Berren, Sebastian is strong and smart. He has been climbing through these caverns for years. I am sure he can handle it without your assistance.”, Tomas said with assurance.
Tomas was protective of his twin brother. They were best friends although completely different from one another. He knew Berren was always trying to keep Sebastian in trouble because King Ivan was so lenient on Sebastian’s behavior unless it meant he was in Shadowmire.
It began to darken out and all the children were in the dining hall when Ivan and Emelia entered the room. “Where is Sebastian? Has he still not come home?” King Ivan said while pinching the bridge of his nose looking frustrated.
“I am here father. Sorry I am late, I was talking to Mason about my new saddle when it got late,” Sebastian said hurrying to the dinner table as his family began to gather around.
“Your new saddle? Since when does HE get a new saddle father?” Berren said staring annoyed at Sebastian as he set a plate of food before his father. Berren always insisted on preparing his father’s plate as he said he did not trust anyone else to do it.
“Tell the truth, you were in Shadowmire again weren’t you?” He said as Ivan looked up at Sebastian quickly and seriously.
“As a matter of fact, no, I was not, but thank you for your concern brother.” Sebastian said looking cross. “And yes, a new saddle because mine is too small now. It fits Gentry and he is 5 years younger than me.” Sebastian said with a smirk.
Sebastian had grown quite a bit in the last year. He was just over 6’ tall, with shoulder length brown straight hair and dark brown eyes that were either fierce or kind depending on the situation and in this one, they were furious.
They had supper with light conversation, mostly among the younger siblings. “We are to start training tomorrow Sebastian,” Viktor said with a mouthful of pork. “Berren has a whole fancy schedule for us to kill each other with, but only in step by step order.” That made several of the younger children giggle. Berren rolled his eyes while glancing in his father’s direction.
“Why isn’t there a schedule for us?”, Nadya asked.
“Because girls don’t need to learn to shoot arrows,” Emelia said politely. “A lady has her place in a castle as do the men.”
“Not all of us will live in castles forever,” Sara, the next oldest of the girls said loudly. “Maybe some of us want to do something other than sew and raise babies,” she said while slamming her fist on the table. Nadya smiled and Sebastian laughed while holding his cup up to cheer her on. Ivan smiled lightly and Emelia took a deep breath and turned her head away while sipping her wine.
Ivan stood up and demanded the attention of his children. He announced that in the morning, after training, they would all be preparing for a ball. “This ball will be Sebastian and Tomas’s choosing day.”
Choosing day is where families from all over the nations come to show off their daughters to potential suitors and in this case, princes. It was a large party where everyone dresses in their best. They eat and dance then the young ladies line up and introduce themselves to the men who would potentially be their husbands. They could tell them a little about themselves and why they would make the best wife.
“This is ridiculous!” Sebastian spat. “I don’t need a parade to help me choose a wife.”
Tomas laughed heartily and shook his head while continuing to shove food in his mouth. Ivan looked at Sebastian in disappointment.
“Sebastian be reasonable. You knew this day was coming.” Emelia said softly. “There will be some very lovely ladies that will be thrilled to meet the both of you.”
Sebastian asked to be excused, then walked out of the hall.
“So where were you today?” Tomas asked Sebastian when they were laying in their beds in their large shared bedroom. They were the only siblings who shared a room.
“Please tell me you weren’t in Shadowmire. Father is serious about locking you away this time. He is worried about you.”
“I wasn’t in Shadowmire. I get tired of that place anyway. Women and booze are all it is.” Sebastian said with his eyes closed tightly.
“So, you don’t enjoy the company of scantily clad women?” Tomas said slightly jokingly.
“I am not particularly interested, thank you.” Sebastian said with seriousness. “There aren’t any women who I fancy, and I am tired of father trying to point me towards ‘fine young women who I would be suited well with’. It’s enough to make me never want to get married!”
“So, no women. Men then perhaps?” Tomas said prying. He turned to look at Sebastian who looked at him with a surprised expression. “What? Do you think I don’t notice how you look at men compared to women?”
“Just shut up and go to sleep.” Sebastian said as he rolled over and pulled his blanket over his head.
Sebastian was embarrassed by his brother’s accusation although he was not sure what to think. He has not put any thought into it but now thinking, he does seem to gravitate towards pretty boys over pretty girls. He shook his head and fell fast asleep.
“What are you doing awake so early, Sebastian? Go back to sleep, it is still dark outside.” Tomas complained while turning over facing away from Sebastian and banging his head down onto his pillow.
“I can’t sleep.” Sebastian said.
“You never sleep! Now please if you are going to be awake, be awake quietly!” Tomas tiredly exclaimed.
Sebastian was first at the table for breakfast when his brothers and sisters came in yawning and rubbing their eyes. Sebastian sat there fidgeting, twirling his thumbs and biting on his fingers like he did when he was anxious. Usually by now, he was already on the road heading out of town into the woods but not today. Today was training day for the older boys.
Sebastian was already a skilled swordsman and precise archer. He has been practicing since he was 5 with the blacksmith’s son who was a few months older than him. Berren still thought he needed to train, under his watch, under his rules so that he could pick apart everything he already knew.
Gentry and Viktor sat down in front of Sebastian looking at him smirking but not speaking. “What?” Sebastian said a little overly loud he noticed as his sister Mary jumped a little. “Sorry. What are you two smiling at?”
“Well, how does it feel to be confined?” Gentry said while handing a plate of bread across the table.
“Confined, strangled, tortured, annoyed. I feel like thrusting my sword into Berren’s face the first time he looks at me wrong.” Sebastian said irritably while Viktor tried hiding his laughter when their father walked into the room.
“Sebastian!” Ivan yelled loudly like he was not in the room yet.
“Father, I am sitting right here, you don’t have to scream!” Sebastian said but quickly silenced when he saw his father’s unamused expression. “What did I do this time father?”
“This evening, King Roman Bolin of Prime Alta and his youngest brother Cyrus will be arriving. I expect you to be here, present and accounted for to greet them. That goes for all of you.” Ivan said with seriousness and sat down at the head of the table. “Also, there is to be an important meeting to discuss the future of our two kingdoms and I need you all to be on your best behavior.” He said pointing at Sebastian and continued to say, “Cyrus is your age. I expect you to be an ambassador to our kingdom. Show him around and keep him company for a few days until the ball.”
Berren laughed so hard he nearly spit food onto the table. “Why would you put Sebastian in charge of such an important task? This is the King of All Kings little brother. Perhaps I should...”
“No!” King Ivan said, “I asked my dear Sebastian to do this and I expect him to do it well. He needs friends his age and Cyrus is an ideal companion. I would have asked Tomas, but he will be busy with the magistrate. This meeting will open trade passages from the north to the south that have been closed for many years since the territory wars my great grandfather and the late King Ismael started that divided the north from the south. This bond will make peace between us all.”
King Ivan and King Roman were good friends. They met as adolescent boys that were both riding their horses too close to the southern border when a knight caught them both and put them in jail together for trespassing on the southern kings’ lands. They had been friends since the Highcastle, which are the Bolin family lands, and the Vastille kingdoms were allies.
It was when Roman’s father had slain the king of Prime Alta in battle, then died soon after, that Roman, next in line for the throne married Lorna of the kingdom of Ravikna. Their unification granted him the role of King of All Kings and a seat on the throne of Prime Alta. Though with the rift between the Vastille and Prime Alta, Roman and Ivan remained friends and Roman wanted once and for all to make peace between the territories much against Queen Lorna’s wishes.
Cyrus, King Roman’s youngest brother was the most beautiful of the Bolin boys. He was thin but stocky and very smart. He was mouthy and often spoke before his brain caught up to him which would leave him open for backfire. He had a lot to learn about being a leader but still he was smart and loyal. He was an excellent strategist and people tended to follow his command. He was fair skinned with light brown short hair and hazel eyes. He had a striking smile and a sweet demeanor which made the girls melt.
“Gentry you have to keep your shoulders higher when swinging a sword or your enemies with strike you down where you stand!” Berren yelled standing on the balcony above the training grounds.
“It is heavy brother.” Gentry said panting. “Perhaps I should work with a lighter weapon until I build my strength.”
Gentry was not strong. He was lanky and thin, but he was also twelve years old and as his father says, ‘has not filled out yet.’ Sebastian stood quietly watching his younger brother’s sword play. Viktor was already quite tall for being fourteen and was quite good with a sword, but he was being careful as to not harm his brother.
“Do not hold back!” Berren barked at Viktor. “You cannot be gentle in war. Your enemies will not show you any pity for being small.”
Gentry dropped his sword. “I need a break.” He said as he reached for water. A rock flew down and his Gentry on the side of his head. “You asshole!” Gentry screamed up at Berren.
“Why don’t you calm down. He’s a child, not a soldier.” Viktor yelled up at Berren.
“Maybe you should spar with me then brother.” Berren said smirking at Viktor. “Let’s see what you’ve got.”
“Maybe you should stop picking on children. Why are you up there when you are supposedly training us? Are you afraid to get dirty?” Viktor spit back.
“You couldn’t take me on.” Berren said proudly.
“No, but I can.” Sebastian stepped out of the shadow and into the circle. “Come down here. Let us see if you can put me on my ass.”
Berren lightly laughed and descended the stairs while brushing his hair back. He unsheathed his sword still grinning and walked pompously to face Sebastian who was staring him down without even a hint of weakness. Sebastian gripped his sword tightly around the hilt and held it pointing off to the right ready to swing as his brother’s first move.
“That is not how I showed you to hold that.” Berren said nodding at his brother’s grip. He walked around toward Sebastian right side where the sword was pointed. “Now you would have to adjust to attack me.” He said with certainty. Sebastian remained still and quiet only moving his head slowly to follow his brother’s footsteps.
Berren banged the edge of his sword against Sebastian’s expecting it to be held limply but realized Sebastian’s grip was strong so he stepped back to his front and raised his sword to swing at Sebastian’s head. The sound of iron crashing against iron began echoing throughout the grounds. Berren was quick and smart with a blade and had a lot of fancy maneuvers that he used to show off against the seriousness Sebastian displayed. His prideful expressions quickly turned annoyed when each of his moves was met in defensive strikes from his little brother.
As Berren became more aggressive, he screamed out and lashing his sword toward Sebastian with such force that Sebastian dove down and rolled on the ground then jumped up behind Berren and kicked him hard in the back of his knees dropping Berren to the ground and causing him to loose grip on his sword. Sebastian grabbed Berren around the neck and held his sword as to cut his neck. “I think your grip could use a little work if I don’t say so myself brother.” Sebastian said smiling as he pushed Berren away from him.
“Maybe he can teach archery better.” Viktor said loudly shouting back at Berren who was brushing the dirt off his jacket. Berren looked irritated so Sebastian walked over to him and put his arms around him from the back as to hug him. He rested his head against his brother’s neck and sincerely apologized for embarrassing him. Berren jerked free of Sebastian’s grip and pushed him enough to make Sebastian stumble back a few steps. “Don’t ever touch me again!” Berren snapped.
Sebastian looked hurt and said, “What is your problem? I was just trying to apologize. You are always so vile toward me. What did I do to make you hate me?”
Berren ignored him. “We are brothers and I love you.” Sebastian said calmly. “I don’t understand why you are so angry with me all the time. Why do you despise me?”
“I don’t despise you!” Berren said loudly. “I don’t like you either. I am sick of your doughy eyes and precious face every time you are in front of father. Father babies you. He lets you do whatever you want. He makes up excuses for your behavior. He does not do that with anyone else. It’s all because you were born dead that he thinks you are his special child and he treats you above all of us.” He said angrily before stomping away. Sebastian’s heart hurt as he clutched his chest then followed Berren slowly.
They walked over and watched Viktor and Gentry shoot arrows. Some good shots and some dismal. Viktor was a bit of a showoff and could hit a bullseye without looking but was clumsy and Gentry was the fastest shooter. Berren motioned for Sebastian to take his place in line with his brothers, but Sebastian was upset with Berren and said, “No thanks,” then purposely bumped into Berren as he walked away and towards the door.
Sebastian walked hurriedly to his room and sat down on the window seat staring out into the distance. He just kept hearing Berren’s voice over and over in his head, I do not like you. Sebastian never thought much of people’s opinion of him, but this bothered him quite a bit.
He always wanted to be closer to his family but as the outcast of the group, he felt like their approval of him was important. He got along well with Viktor and Gentry, but they were more immature, so he spent much of their time together cracking jokes about the other siblings. Tomas was his best friend, but they were so different and as they got older, they were growing apart as Tomas was focused on his future and Sebastian was still lost as to what he would do when he got older.
It started to rain. Sebastian sat with his forehead against the warm glass of the window staring down at the people gathering up their goods and running under cover. He laughed while watching a plump woman chasing chickens trying to shoo them into their pen.
Just then, Tomas came into the room and stopped at the sight of his twin sitting looking depressed against the window. He could see the tears built up slightly in his eyes and he walked over without speaking and wrapped his arms around his brother tightly.
“We could gang up on him and beat him if that would make you happy.” Tomas said jokingly trying to cheer his brother up. Sebastian let out a weak chuckle and a half grin flashed across his face.
“What is wrong brother?” Tomas asked still holding him in his arms. Sebastian just shook his head showing he did not want to talk. They sat there for what seemed like hours in silence and watched it rain.
Nadya and Sara swung open the bedroom door and Nadya excitedly said, “Wash up boys. Father said King Roman is on the south side of the city. We are to greet him downstairs shortly!” She smiled at them both then her smile faded as the twins looked uninterested. “Get off your ass and wash up now!” Sara said and she slammed the door as she left.
The twins looked at each other with raised eyebrows as they got up and started to disrobe. Sebastian took his shirt off and Tomas looked startled. “What happened to your chest?” He said. Sebastian had bruises spread from his shoulder, across his right side of his chest, and down to his lower ribs.
“I fell.” Sebastian said quickly.
“You fell? How?”
Sebastian took a deep breath and told him how he slipped climbing out of cave a few days ago. He lost his grip and fell 10 feet down and landed on his right side. “You could have been killed!” Tomas said looking scared while lightly touching Sebastian’s shoulder.
“I’m fine. It doesn’t even hurt anymore, see,” as he poked at the bruises. “Besides, who would care anyways if I didn’t come back?” After saying that, he quickly regretted every word. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it.”
Tomas looked really upset and said without looking at Sebastian, “Is that why you have been so moody lately? You think no one cares about you? You know, I cannot imagine not having you in my life. I love you brother. Please, tell me what is bothering you.”
Sebastian just shook his head. “Maybe later, we have to get ready.” Tomas rolled his eyes a took an over exaggerated breath while shaking his head. Sebastian laughed a little at his brother’s reaction knowing it was on purpose.
“Oh, so you do still have a sense of humor?” Tomas said smiling. Sebastian smiled wide and looked up at Tomas through his long hair that was hanging down in his face. “I am happy to see that you still care,” Sebastian said sarcastically.
As the twins fussed over their outfits, they realized they were making a huge mess which made them laugh harder. “You should wear the red with the gold embroidery, Sebastian. The color really brings out your eyes,” Tomas said mimicking his stepmother’s voice while swinging his hips back and forth.
“Oh, but this blue is so rich and bold. It screams ‘I am a prince and I like to be fashionable,” Sebastian joked back using a girly tone in his voice. Just then, horns sounded that indicate the outer gates were being lifted meaning someone was coming into the castle grounds. The twins got serious and looked at each other sharply then started grabbing at the pile of clothing on the floor.
They wanted to look presentable and ‘not look like heathens’ as their father said. This was the King of All Kings, after all, as well as all the girls and lords and ladies of the kingdoms were arriving. They wanted to look striking and handsome. Sebastian donned the red with gold because his stepmother was right, the color did look flattering on him and Tomas chose a deep green cloak with a gold pin shaped like a crown to drape across his dark brown leather and linen.
Sebastian quickly brushed his hair back trying to unknot the tangles in his thick chestnut locks then wiped his face to enhance is gorgeous strong features of his high cheekbones and dark brown eyes. Tomas ruffled up his short well-kept hair to look fuller and checked his teeth before turning to open the door.
As they stepped into the hall, they saw handmaids fussing about grabbing ribbon and combs before darting into the girl’s rooms. They walked down the first flight of stairs into the landing where Berren and Viktor were waiting on the others. The younger siblings were on the floor rolling a ball back and forth laughing and clapping and Sebastian stood there staring at Berren with a look that suggested he wanted to punch him in the throat as his happiness disappeared from his body.
Lords and their wives and sons and daughters began filling into the great hall. Some struck up conversations with King Ivan as they passed, and some bowed quickly and kept walking. Some of the daughters would smile and wave at Sebastian and Tomas as they passed by them. Sebastian looked bored while Tomas was enjoying every moment of it.