Leal stood in his room and studied his reflection. He was wearing a green tunic with the standard of his family stitched on the front, a soaring golden eagle. His tan pants were new and not very comfortable. He had to wear his crown tonight as well. It felt heavy on his head though it was only a simple gold crown that sat down low just above his forehead. On his hip was the official sword of the Crown Prince.
Overall, Leal felt uncomfortable and out of place. He felt unsettled in his own skin. He looked like himself in the mirror in front of him, but he did not feel like himself. If only he had Dracia by his side as his princess. He could imagine her there next to him wearing a gown in the dark green of the Cassendars. She would have her dark hair piled up on her head, maybe a few curls cascading down her long, graceful neck.
He could see her wearing her own crown, one that was at this moment sitting in a case, waiting to sit on the head of Leal’s wife. She would tease him about his pants. He would comment on the cut of her dress. They would be late to the court event. He closed his eyes and took a few breaths. He did not need to let his imagination to run away from him as he needed his head to be clear.
It didn’t help that he knew Dracia was in the palace at that moment. The groups of royals and nobles had arrived from Navalia and Siccaria earlier in the day. Dracia had come to see to the security of the Navalian princess. Leal had hoped to greet Dracia when she came to the palace, but his father had him greeting the Navalian king and head High Noble from Siccaria at the same time.
Leal didn’t know what to think of King Arnar from Navalia. He was a tall man, a little younger than Leal’s father. Although Leal and his father were both tall, King Arnar was half a head taller than both of them. His hair was a thick, graying blonde that fell down over his ears. His face was thin with high cheekbones, and his eyes were ice blue.
He greeted both Leal and his father with a slight bow. He was not rude, but his manner seemed to be withholding. He thanked King Rommel for the invitation, and said he hoped they could strengthen their relationship. After saying he looked forward to the court celebration tonight, he left to settle in.
Lord Quain, the leader of Siccaria, was much more jovial. He greeted Leal and his father with good cheer. Quain was a strongly built man about Leal’s height. He had dark hair that he had cut short. His brown eyes were bright and framed by lines that became more prominent as he smiled. He had a long nose and square jaw. Leal found himself smiling at the man as he greeted him. Something about Quain felt familiar, but Leal couldn’t figure it out.
He turned as he heard a knock at the door. He walked over and answered it to find his personal attendant, Malven.
“The king summons you into the banquet hall, your highness,” said Malven.
Leal sighed. “Very well.” He walked out and shut the door behind him. “Have many people arrived in the banquet hall already?”
“Most are gathering now. I believe a few are waiting to make a grand entrance a little later in the evening,” said Malven as they walked.
“Such as a Navalian princess, I take it.”
“Correct as usual, your highness.”
“Which means she is not there yet,” said Leal knowing Malven would know who he was referring to.
“No, she is standing guard outside the princess’s rooms at the moment,” said Malven looking at Leal.
“How is she?” asked Leal. “How does she look?”
“The same as she always does these days, a perfectly controlled, strong, High Captain.” He stalled for a moment and then turned to Leal with a slight smile. “She did look a little tired to me. I suppose leading the Disciplines are exhausting, or perhaps something kept her up late last night.”
Leal looked at Malven out of the corner of his eye. “I think you might want to be careful about voicing your assumptions.”
“Of course, your majesty, I didn’t mean to overstep,” said Malven, still smiling.
“You never do,” said Leal good-naturedly. He stopped for a moment, putting his arm out to bring Malven to a halt as well. “You haven’t shared any of my comings and goings with anyone, have you?”
“No, your highness. I would never tell anyone your business. I hope you know me better than that by now.”
“I do, but it seems someone is reporting to my father when I leave the palace, even when I am cautious to make sure no one sees me. Do you have any idea who it could be?”
“No, I am sure the king has spies all around, but I can keep watch and talk to all your attendants discreetly and see what I can find.”
“Do, if you don’t mind. As you know, I have a lot at stake at the moment, and I don’t need anything going wrong.”
Malven nodded his agreement as they started walking again.
“I can’t lose her, Malven. It is not an option. Whatever my father thinks he will accomplish by this farce he is making me participate in, I cannot tell, but it will change nothing. I will have only one woman by my side.”
“I know, your highness. She is magnificent. I can’t blame you for wanting to keep her.”
“Overstepping, Malven, once again.”
Malven shrugged. “You always said you wanted me to be truthful with you. I am a man not much older than you. I have eyes.”
“Have those eyes seen the Navalian princess?”
“They have,” said Malven as they slowed down, coming close to the banquet hall.
“And how did you find her?”
“She is not my taste, and I doubt she will be yours, your highness,” said Malven as he bowed. “I will wish you a pleasant evening and will see you back in your rooms.
“Good evening, Malven,” said Leal as Malven walked away. Leal knew he would find places to hide and observe the evening. He was looking forward to hearing Malven’s report.
Leal walked into the banquet hall to see many tables set up throughout the room. People all dressed in bright dresses and fine tunics mingled around. They bowed or curtsied as Leal walked by, him nodding to a few. He walked towards his father who was standing with Nobel Quain and an older woman in a red dress. Quain smiled as Leal walked up to them.
“Good evening, your highness,” said Quain brightly. “May I introduce my mother to you?”
Leal nodded, looking at the older woman.
“This is High Matron Lady Elise of Siccaria,” said Quain. “Mother, this is Leal Cassendar, the Crown Prince of Lanoxan.”
The old woman frowned at Leal as she gave a curtsy. She had dark gray hair that was pulled up into a high bun. Her eyes were heavily lined with wrinkles but were still a bright, deep brown. Her thin lips were drawn into a line as she looked at Leal. Her red dress was simple, with half sleeves, a square neckline, and a full skirt that fell to the floor. The only embellishment was a dogwood flower stitched on the bodice. Leal recognized it as the standard for the High Nobles of Siccaria.
Leal bowed and said, “It is a pleasure to meet you, Lady Elise. I am glad you could journey to Lanoxan to be with us this summer. I hope you enjoy your time here.”
“I am sure I will,” said Lady Elise in a clear voice. “At least the weather is nice. I grew so tired of the constant wind and chill of the last place I had to visit for weeks on end. I look forward to walking through your hills.”
“We shall have a picnic one day soon,” offered Leal. “You can walk as much as your heart desires over our grassy knolls.”
“I look forward to it,” said Lady Elise.
A group of people laughing caused them all three to turn. Leal could see Dracia’s father, Lord Arwel with four other people as they talked and laughed. Arwel turned as he sensed the new eyes on him. Leal watched as Arwel stared at Quain for a moment before nodding. Quain paused for a moment before nodding in return.
“Do you know Lord Arwel?” asked Leal, causing Quain to turn his eyes back to him.
“Yes, he spent some time many years ago in Siccaria. His father sent him there to learn Mystics and other things. He and I spent hours together under the same instructors,” said Quain. “I should go greet him. Would you like to come, mother?”
“Not particularly,” said Lady Elise coldly. “I will go find my seat. I am rather tired from our journey. Please excuse me, your highness.”
Leal nodded to her as she turned and walked away, not looking very tired in her movements. Quain smiled at Leal before walking over toward Lord Arwel. Leal moved closer to his father, who was talking with some lower nobles from Siccaria. Leal stood by and spoke when he was called upon but didn’t offer much to the conversation.
After some time, Leal noticed the mood in the crowded room changed. He looked to see the party from Navalia entering the space. King Arnar was at the front with a man Leal thought must be Arnar’s son. He had the same high cheekbones and cold blue eyes. His hair was blonde and hung down almost to his neck.
The Navalians came up to King Rommel and Leal.
“Welcome again, King Arnar,” said Rommel.
“Thank you,” said Arnar. “May I present my son, Prince Fannar.”
Rommel and Leal both bowed as Rommel said, “You are very welcome. I hope you are settled in comfortably.”
“Oh yes, very much so,” said the prince with a smile. “I particularly appreciate your care for my sister and her security. May I introduce my sister to you?”
King Arnar and Prince Fannar moved to the side and the Navalian princess came forward. Leal could see why her beauty was talked of far and wide. She was of medium height with very pale skin. Her light blonde hair was long, and she wore it down. It curled slightly, tumbling down her shoulders and back. Her features were delicate. Her ice-blue eyes were large with long eyelashes. Her small mouth was pouty and dark pink. She wore a blue gown that showed off her figure to perfection. It was low cut and form hugging until flowing down into a full skirt. On her bodice stitched in silver was a winter rose.
She was lovely, but Malven had been right; she was not to Leal’s taste. She was like the first good snow of winter. She was beautiful to look at, and Leal could see how the site of her would at first bring excitement and expectation, but before long, Leal would get tired of her icy looks, longing for something warmer.
“This is Princess Lilith,” said Fannar smiling at his sister.
“It is a true delight, my princess,” said King Rommel as he took the hand the princess offered him. The king bowed over it and kissed.
“I am very happy to be here, your majesty,” said Lilith in a sweet voice. She looked at Leal.
“Let me introduce my son to you. This is Leal Cassendar, the Crown Prince of Lanoxan,” said King Rommel.
Leal smiled as the princess held out her hand. Leal took it and bowed over it. As he bowed, he caught sight of Dracia standing behind the party from Navalia. She was looking to her right, away from Leal, as he greeted the princess. He felt the familiar sensation of thrill that seeing her gave him. She truly was so very beautiful. If Lilith was a snowy winter day, Dracia was the representation of late spring.
Just as Leal longed for warm weather, flowers, and green trees in winter, he longed for Dracia. After looking at the winter princess in front of him, seeing Dracia was like standing in the warm sunshine as the perfect breeze blew around him. He wanted nothing more than to walk past the princess in front of him to grab Dracia and claim to all who his true princess really was.
Quickly remembering his manners, Leal lightly kissed the princess’s hand and let it go before straightening up. “I am glad you are here. I hope you are settling in comfortably.”
“Very much so,” said Lilith. “This is a very beautiful place, and my rooms are very comfortable.”
“Why don’t you escort the princess to the table, Leal. We will be eating supper soon,” said Leal’s father.
“It would be an honor.” Leal held out his arm to the princess. She took it with her dainty, pale hand, smiling up at him.
Leal walked the princess to the front of the room. He looked behind him to see Dracia trailing them a few feet back. Lilith also looked behind them.
“I appreciate you seeing to my safety, but I am not sure it is necessary to have your warrior woman always following me.”
“My father arranged it, and you should be honored. She is the High Captain of the Sentinel. She is the finest warrior in the kingdom.”
“You have interesting ways here. Our women do not fight, but they are not so large as the one behind us. She is very tall and quite mannish in her mannerism.”
Leal frowned and gave a soft snort. “She is also the daughter of the highest lord of our court. She is known as a great beauty here.”
“I can see why your father has brought in women from other kingdoms to show you,” said Lilith laughing. She stopped when she saw the look Leal was giving her.
“That was unkind. I didn’t mean to belittle your women here. I can see there are many beautiful women in this room.”. She looked behind her again. “I suppose she is rather lovely on further inspection. She is very tall, but her eyes are very pretty. I imagine her hair is as well if she lets it down.”
Leal would love to tell this little cold princess just how beautiful Dracia was and how Dracia overshadowed her in every way, but he knew he could not. He stayed quiet, reminding himself that in a few weeks, this would all be over, and he could make his father see that Dracia was the correct choice for his bride.
“I hope you know I didn’t mean to be so rude. I find myself very nervous. I always say the wrong things when I am nervous,” said Lilith with a slight pout on her face.
“Why would you be nervous?” asked Leal as they approached the head table.
“I have heard many tales of you, Prince Leal. I have heard of your power and your good looks.” Lilith cast her eyes down. “When I saw you, I can see why there are so many tales. I can feel the power within you. I could hear my own speak in your presence. I was quite overcome.”
Leal looked at her carefully as they came to their seats. He studied her for a moment, seeking her power. He felt his own within him searching. He could not feel anything from the princess by him, as his power looked for another. Leal smiled a little as he glanced at Dracia.”
“You feel it too, don’t you?” asked the princess.
Leal wasn’t sure what this woman was playing at, being so flippant and rude one moment and then so quiet and intimate the next.
“We should go ahead and take our seats. The rest of the table is coming now,” said Leal pulling out the chair for the princess as she sat down.
Leal sat next to her and looked out. At the table in front of him sat Dracia with her two seconds on either side of her. She was turned to talk to Roderick as he poured her a glass of wine. She said something that caused Roderick to smile at her as he put the pitcher of wine down. He leaned in and whispered something to her that caused her to laugh and lightly squeeze his arm.
Leal took a deep breath to contain the power he felt welling up inside of him. Dracia had told Leal over and over that Roderick was nothing more than a friend. Besides, Leal was sitting in front of her with a foreign princess many expected to be his wife. How could he blame her if she found a way to distract herself?
Leal looked at Darron, who sat on Dracia’s other side. He was staring at the princess next to Leal. Leal looked to see Lilith staring back at Darron.
“Who is that man?” asked Lilith, still starring at Darron.
“He is an Elite of the Sentinel and a second of the High Captain,” said Leal. “His name is Darron.”
“Maybe your father should have put him in charge of my security. He looks like he could actually scare someone away.”
Leal would love to tell her to ask his father to exchange Dracia for Darron as the head of her security, but he would not let her disparage Dracia’s ability as High Captain.
“Trust me, princess, no one can protect you better than Dracia. I have seen her in action. She is no doubt the best warrior in the kingdom. She will not let anything happen to you. My father would not take your safety lightly. Like I said, it is a great honor to have the High Captain watching over you. She has many responsibilities, so her leaving the Fortress to attend to you is no little thing.”
“Do you know her well?” asked Lilith.
“Yes,” said Leal. “We grew up together. She is great friends with my sister, as well, as you can see.”
Leal watched as Lexine stopped by Dracia’s table to speak with her. Dracia stood and curtsied, but Lexine smiled and waved her away, leaning to kiss Dracia on the cheek.
“Your sister is very beautiful,” observed Lilith.
“Yes, she is,” agreed Leal. “She is also a wonderful person. I will introduce you after our meal.”
Leal hoped he could have Lex distract the princess for a moment so he could finally talk to Dracia. He hoped to convince her to let him come to her tonight. He knew it would be late, but he felt the need to be close to her, even if it was just to hold her as she slept.
The meal started, and Leal was able not to have to make constant conversation with the princess as she was distracted by others. He tried not to stare at Dracia throughout the meal, but he constantly found himself looking at her. She ate her food as she chatted with both Roderick and Darron. He smiled a little watching her roll her eyes at something Darron said.
At one point, Leal saw Dracia looking at someone else at the head table. She looked down but kept looking back up. Leal followed her gaze to see Lady Elise staring at Dracia. Dracia must have noticed Leal looking at Lady Elise as well because she turned and looked at him with a questioning look. Leal shrugged his shoulders, giving her a half-smile.
The rest of the meal passed without any incidents. Leal was happy when the king made a short speech welcoming their honored guest because when it was over, it meant he could get try to get away from Princess Lilith. When the speech was over, Leal caught Lexine’s eye and motioned for her to come over.
“Lexine, this is Princess Lilith. She would like to be introduced to you,” said Leal as Lexine came close.
“I am happy to make your acquaintance, princess,” said Lexine, curtsying.
“I am glad to meet you as well. Call me Lilith if you please,” said Lilith as she smiled at Lexine.
“I was wondering if you could introduce the princess to some of the ladies of the court, Lex.” He gave Lexine a pleading look.
“I would be happy to do it,” said Lexine smiling at Lilith before looking at Leal with a cocked eyebrow. He knew he would owe her something later.
Lexine started walking, and Lilith joined at her side, taking Lex’s arm. Lex looked down for a moment and then turned to look back at Leal before they moved on to a group of young women. Leal looked to find Dracia standing up to follow Lexine and the princess. He cut her off as she was walking his way.
“High Captain,” said Leal nodding at Dracia.
“Your highness,” replied Dracia with a curtsey.
“You are well tonight, I trust?” Leal held out his hand.
“I am very well,” said Dracia taking Leal’s hand. “I am working, though, so I will need to move along.”
“Of course, I will not detain you,” said Leal as he bent over and kissed her hand gently, knowing his lips lingered a little too long. He stood up and looked around to see if anyone was near them. “Are you heading back to the Fortress tonight?”
“I am. I will be needed at the Disciplines tomorrow. Don’t worry about your princess; I have assigned two well-trained Elites to the safety of all our guest tonight.”
“My princess, High Captain?” asked Leal frowning. She knew he would have only one princess in his life, and it sure wouldn’t be some fragile woman of winter.
“A slip of the tongue, your highness,” said Dracia looking down. “I have heard her called your princess many times tonight.”
He wanted so badly to take Dracia into his arms. He wanted to tell her that no matter what anyone said, the only woman that mattered to him was her. He felt his arms ache to hold her as the power inside him urged him to claim the woman in front of him. It felt wrong to speak to her so casually, to know in a moment he had to let her pass.
He leaned forward as close as he dared. “Tonight,” he whispered. “Please, tonight.”
He leaned back and looked at Dracia as she studied him. Finally, she nodded, filling Leal with a tremendous feeling of relief and happiness.
“Now, if you will excuse me, I must see to my duty,” said Dracia.
“Of course, I hope you have a pleasant evening, High Captain.” Leal moved out of her way.
“We will see how the night goes. I have great hopes of finding something to please me,” said Dracia with a glance at Leal as she walked by.
Leal smiled as he watched Dracia walk towards Lex and Princess Lilith. He had not heard her tease him in the open in a while. He found the whole irritating evening might have been worth it for that one moment. He just had to get through a few more hours, and then he could slip away and be with her.
“I had hoped to make it over here in time to meet the woman you were just speaking with,” said Lady Elise as she made it to Leal’s side.
“Oh?” asked Leal.
“Yes, I believe she is the High Captain of your Sentinel, is that correct?”
“She is,” answered Leal looking down at the old woman.
“She seems like an interesting woman,” said Lady Elise. “I have heard she is the first woman as High Captain, is that correct?”
“You are correct,” nodded Leal. “She is a very interesting woman. I will be glad to take you to her if you would like an introduction.”
“No,” said Lady Elise, as Leal watched Dracia be greeted by her parents. Her father smiled as Dracia leaned in and kissed his cheek. Her mother stood to the side and nodded at Dracia
“She seems to be already speaking to someone, and I believe she is on duty, is she not?”
“She is speaking with her mother and father, it seems,” said Leal. “She is charged with seeing to Princess Lilith’s protection, but with the number of Elites in here tonight, I doubt anyone is in any danger.”
“Lord Arwel is her father?” asked Lady Elise, her voice rising slightly.
“Yes, she is the only daughter of Lord Arwel and Lady Owena. She was previously Lady Dracia Yates before she was named an Elite of the Sentinel. Now she is the High Captain.”
Lady Elise starred at Dracia as she spoke with her father. Dracia laughed at something her father said, her eyes bright.
“She is a very pretty woman,” said Lady Elise quietly. “Such lovely dark eyes.”
Leal wasn’t sure what to say. Lady Elise didn’t seem to require a response; she seemed very lost in her thoughts. She turned to look at Leal after Dracia’s father had kissed his daughter’s hand, and Dracia had left.
“I am sure I will have opportunities to speak with her in the days to come,” said Lady Elise. “I am rather tired. I believe I will retire for the night.”
“Would you like me to call an attendant to see you to your rooms?” asked Leal.
“No, I know my way. My attendants will be awaiting me in my room. Good night, your highness.”
“Good night, my lady,” said Leal as she turned and left.
He made his way around the room, trying to avoid his father and Princess Lilith. He found himself being greeted by Dracia’s father and mother. Her father was as old as Leal’s father, but he looked about ten years younger. He was about the same height as Leal. He had brown eyes not quite as dark as Dracia’s, and his hair was dark with a little gray in it. It feels in waves against his forehead. Dracia favored her father over her mother, who was short, petit, and blonde. She was an attractive woman, but she never seemed to smile.
“Good evening, your highness,” said Lord Arwel clapping Leal on the shoulder. “This is quite a night for you, I believe.”
“Why do you say so?” asked Leal.
“You are meeting your future wife, I hear. I would think that is an important night for anyone.”
“I think everyone is getting ahead of themselves,” said Leal. “No agreements have been made with anyone.”
Lord Arwel nodded. “As you say, but your father seems to think he has found the one for you.”
“I will choose my own future queen, Lord Arwel. Any man would like to choose his own wife, I believe.”
“True,” said Lady Owena as she looked at her husband, “but those in your position aren’t always given that choice. Those in power usually have to marry with regards to other matters besides the heart.”
“I would only choose a woman who would serve the kingdom well,” said Leal.
“Perhaps your father and you will choose the same woman,” said Lord Arwel.
Leal chucked slightly. “I do hope we can agree on my choice eventually. Now, if you will excuse me, I believe my sister is trying to get my attention.”
Leal bowed and left quickly to go to Lexine who was standing by herself at the edge of the room. She looked at Leal, and they both turned and walked to a small alcove by the door, hidden from most of the room.
“You will not leave me to take care of that woman again,” said Lexine angrily.
Leal gave her an apologetic look. “She is a piece of work, isn’t she?”
“She already thinks she can have you anytime she wants. She seems to think it’s her decision if you marry or not. I wish I could have set her straight on that matter, but I bit my tongue.”
“She seems to think a lot of herself, but I am sure she has been taught that way. Besides, half the people in this room think I will marry her. I wonder where they got the idea,” said Leal, rolling his eyes at his sister.
“Father, of course,” sighed Lexine. “He is stupid to act like it is a settled thing, and he will look like a great fool when it doesn’t come to fruition.”
“He thinks he can convince me somehow. He seems very confident,” said Leal shaking his head.
“He must know how impossible his task is. He does know, doesn’t he?” asked Lexine looking around the corner to make sure no one was around.
“He refused to listen to me or understand. I will not bow to his wishes. It is impossible for me to do so.”
“I know, and I would not want you to do it.”
“How did you get away from Lilith?” asked Leal.
“Luckily, her brother came to talk to her, though his eyes were elsewhere. You might want to watch him.”
“What do you mean?” asked Leal.
“He was looking very pointedly at our High Captain. He asked several questions about her. Whatever objections his sister has about the women of our kingdom, and she seems to have plenty, I don’t believe her brother shares her views.”
“Are you serious, Lex? You really think he has an interest in Dracia?”
Lexine shrugged. “I’m not sure what his intentions would be with her or if he has any, but he was definitely showing interest. He seemed pleased she was the daughter of the High Lord of the kingdom.”
“And you left him and his sister alone with Dracia?” asked Leal angrily.
“Alone? She is not alone. There are well over a hundred people out there. Her seconds are close to her side. Besides, Dracia needs no help taking care of herself. Him staring at her won’t hurt her anyway.”
Leal turned and walked away from the alcove and further into the room. He scanned until he saw Dracia standing near the center of the space with both her seconds near her. She was talking with Princess Lilith and Prince Fannar. Leal hurried to join them. He stood between Roderick and Prince Fannar.
“Prince Leal,” said Lilith, smiling at him. “I was wondering where you ran off to.”
“I was speaking to many different people in the room,” said Leal. “I have a duty to my court, after all.”
“We were just getting to know your charming High Captain,” said Fannar smiling at Dracia. “I understand you have known her for some time.”
“Yes,” replied Leal. “We grew up together. Her father’s main home is next to the palace.”
“I was asking her why the daughter of the highest lord in the land would join the Sentinel.”
“I have long wanted to be an Elite,” said Dracia looking at Prince Fannar. “I enjoy the challenge and am honored to serve my kingdom.”
“But a woman of your status and many virtues could marry very well.” Fannar’s eyes raked over Dracia. “I wonder at your father, letting you throw your life away in such a manner.”
“I do not consider serving my kingdom as the High Captain of a great institution as throwing my life away,” said Dracia with irritation. “If I ever did want to marry, I could leave the Sentinel whenever I wanted, but I am pleased to serve my whole life if it comes to it.”
Leal looked at her, hoping she didn’t really think she would serve her whole life as High Captain. He hoped her reign over the Sentinel would be very short.
“You are very opinionated,” said Lilith looking at Dracia as though she couldn’t believe what she was saying. “Are all women in Lanoxan as free with their words as you?”
Dracia looked the princess up and down with one raised eyebrow. She looked very much like she would like to answer the princess’s rude question but held her tongue.
“I like a woman who knows her own mind,” said Fannar, glancing at his sister. He turned and looked at Dracia. “Could I come and visit the Sentinel Fortress soon? I understand you have training going on at the moment, but I could come anytime you like. I would be sure to stay out of your way.”
“You are welcomed any time to come see the Fortress,” said Dracia graciously. “You can observe us training our newest novices if you like.”
“That sounds interesting. I will have to find time to go.”
“I can take you when it is convenient,” offered Leal.
“I would like to go as well,” said Lilith as she moved behind her brother, pushing him aside to stand next to Leal. She put her hand on Leal’s arm. “I should like to see anything in your town that you would like to show me. I hope to get to know Winsdell very well.”
Leal looked down at her small, pale hand on his arm. He moved his arm down so she would have to let him go.
“You should visit the Fortress, your highness.” Darron nodded at Princess Lilith. “I think there are things you would find interesting there.”
“Then I will make sure I go when my brother and Prince Leal visit.”
“I will be happy to show you Winsdell throughout your stay,” said Leal, remembering his manners. “We have many things planned for all of our guests.”
“It is getting late, High Captain,” said Roderick quietly. “It might be time to head back to the Fortress.”
“Yes,” agreed Dracia. She looked at Lilith. “Would you like me to walk you back to your rooms, your highness?”
“No, my brother or perhaps Prince Leal can escort me to my rooms. I am sure I will be well looked after,” said Lilith.
“Very well. I am leaving two very experienced Elites on duty close to all of the guest rooms. With the palace guards, all should be well protected,” said Dracia. She dropped a quick curtsey and turned to leave.
“I hope to see you soon, High Captain,” said Prince Fannar, causing Dracia to turn back for a moment.
“I am sure you will. I will accompany your sister on many of your outings, and it seems you will be visiting my Fortress,” replied Dracia as Fannar took her hand.
“Good,” said Fannar bowing down and kissing Dracia’s hand. “I look forward to knowing you better.”
He released Dracia’s hand as she nodded at him before she turn to Leal. “I wish you a pleasant evening, your highness.”
“I hope you rest well, Captain,” said Leal with a small smile. He wanted to give her a wink as well, but he held back.
Dracia turned and left with Roderick and Darron on her heels. Leal watched as she walked out of the room, her cape flowing behind her.
“Do you really enjoy talking to that woman, brother?” asked Lilith looking at Fannar.
“Yes, very much,” said Fannar. “Talking to a beautiful woman is always pleasant, especially one as high spirited as her. I imagine she is passionate in all areas of her life.”
“Beautiful?” Lilith gave a small laugh. “She is nothing like the women of our kingdom. She is so tall and dark-featured. Did you see her hands? They are quite scarred up, and I am sure they are very rough.”
“She might not be to your taste, sister,” said Fannar. “But yes, she is very beautiful. I can assure you her hands are quite soft. She has every feature to attract a man. If you don’t believe me, ask your prince here.”
“I am sure he would agree with me,” said Lilith, taking Leal’s arm again and smiling up at him. “What man wants a woman who fights?”
Leal was spared from answering by the arrival of his father and King Arnar. King Arnar had come to tell his son and daughter it was time to retire for the night. Fannar wished Leal a good night as Lilith looked up at Leal expectantly. He did his princely duty and kissed her hand, wishing her a pleasant evening. He watched the Navalian party go with much satisfaction, dreading the weeks ahead in their presence.
“So, Leal, what did you think?” asked his father. “She is very beautiful, isn’t she?”
“I suppose she is father, but she is so cold and rude. You can’t think she would be a proper queen for our kingdom.”
“She might be a little spoiled, but that is to be expected for a princess. Besides, subjects like their rulers to have some airs. She would be a very proper queen for Lanoxan.”
Leal rolled his eyes. “You will not convince me, father. I don’t know why you want to go through with this.”
“You will spend time getting to know her, as well as a few of the daughters from the lower nobles of Siccaria. I wish Quain had a daughter, but he only has a son who hasn’t bothered to show up yet. He is supposed to come within a couple of weeks.”
“I will spend time with whoever you want, but it will not change my mind,” said Leal. “Am I allowed to leave this room now? I find that I have a headache.”
His father looked at him. “Yes, you may go, but be ready to spend time with Princess Lilith tomorrow. I expect you to show her every courtesy.”
“I will do my duty father, have no fear.” He walked swiftly from the room, anxious to make his way to the Fortress.
When he got to his room, he found Malven waiting for him alone.
“Will you be staying here tonight?” asked Malven as Leal shut the door.
“No, I will not. I need to change quickly into something much more comfortable,” said Leal taking off his crown.
“I thought as much,” said Malven. “I have a change of clothes for you laid out in your bedroom. I will make sure your breakfast is late in the morning. I am sure we won’t have many early risers after tonight anyway.”
“Thank you, Malven; you are invaluable to me,” said the prince as he walked towards his bedroom.
“I hope you remember it when you find I overstep at times, your highness.”
Leal shook his head at Malven as he walked into this room to change. He carefully snuck out of his rooms and the palace grounds, through the trees, and to the Fortress. Glamouring himself, he jogged up the Fortress stairs to Dracia’s door. He could feel she had her wards down. He checked the short hall before letting his glamour fall and opening the door.
He walked in to be greeting by Dracia jumping into his arms and kissing him passionately. He wrapped his arms around her, feeling the warmth of her body through her thin nightgown.
“How did you know it was me?” he asked as he pulled back and smiled at her. “What if I was Roderick or Darron?”
Dracia shrugged. “Darron does not come into my rooms, ever. I was willing to chance it was you. If it were Roderick, he would have knocked first.”
She leaned up and kissed him again, pulling him very close to her.
“You are very eager tonight, my love,” said Leal as she pulled him towards her bedroom.
“I am ashamed to admit it, but like most other people, I have a jealous nature. I am very anxious to remind you that you are mine.” Dracia led him through her bedroom door.
Leal kissed her and backed her up to her bed. He pulled her down to her mattress and sat beside her, reaching out to put his hand on her cheek.
“I never need reminding of belonging to you, Dracia. My heart reminds me daily. Please never doubt the love I have for you.”
“I never doubt it, Leal,” said Dracia as she leaned into his hand. “I belong to you as well. You were right when you said we are bound together. As much as I have tried to let you go, I cannot do it. I don’t know what our future looks like, but I do not think I can ever truly leave you.”
“Good.” Leal kissed her. He pulled back and whispered, “Soon, everyone will know just who you are to me, especially my father.”