The Sentinel of Cassendar: The High Captain

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Chapter 17

Dracia stood in her room looking in her mirror, feeling very strange. The woman staring back at her looked nothing like her usual self. She was wearing a dark blue gown that came off her shoulders with short sheer sleeves. The neckline was low cut as it was the summer fashion. The bodice was tight, much tighter than any of her uniforms. Though the skit was long, it was light and flowed around her, making it easy to walk. She felt very exposed with her legs bare under her skirt. This was not an outfit for fighting or riding a horse, but she wouldn’t be doing either of those things tonight.

It was the night of the High Summer Festival, and it was one of two High Celebrations for her kingdom. She was expected to not come in uniform to attend the festival, but in usual court dress. Her mother had noticed her enough to send over the dress and slippers with an attendant who helped Dracia dress and do her hair. Dracia thought her father must have made her mother do it somehow. The attendant had pulled half of Dracia’s hair up and pinned it. The rest flowed around her shoulders in dark waves.

Dracia knew the dress was fine. She thought she looked well, but it all just felt so foreign. She used to dress like this all the time before coming to the Sentinel after her eighteenth birthday. She had even worn things like this at court during her time as an Elite, but since becoming High Captain over a year ago, her uniform had become a part of her. It helped define who she was. She was strong and confident in her blacks and silvers. In this flimsy dark blue dress, she felt exposed and vulnerable.

She turned slightly and looked at herself. She knew if she ever did live with Leal as his wife, she would be expected to spend her life like this, attending court, dressed finely. She wondered if she could actually do it. She did want to be with him. She loved him. She knew what loving him and being with him meant, and she was prepared to do it. She had been raised to do it, but it would be a difficult change.

Before leaving, she put on the necklace sent for her; it was a gold chain with a jeweled peacock, her father’s family’ standard, on the end. She fastened the chain around her neck as she looked down at Leal’s locket sitting on a table. She wished she could wear it, but she knew it was impossible.

Deciding she had fretted enough about her appearance, she left her room and walked down the stairs to meet her seconds in the east entry hall. As she walked down, she saw both of them and smiled. As much as he bothered her, she knew Darron was a good looking man. He was wearing a dark purple tunic that went well with his light brown hair and brown eyes.

She turned her eyes to Roderick, who did look very nice as well. His deep blue tunic brought out his blue eyes. His dark hair had grown longer lately. It almost touched his shoulders. He did have a wonderful smile with his full lips and white teeth. Though most women seem to prefer Darron in looks, Dracia didn’t know how with Roderick’s smile.

“Good evening, my lady,” said Darron. “You look very well tonight.”

“I am still your High Captain, Darron; you should address me as such,” said Dracia with a little playfulness to her voice.

“Of course, Captain, I meant no disrespect. Only your appearance threw me off.”

“You both look very nice,” said Dracia. “It is strange to see us out of uniform, but a change is welcome.”

“We should go,” said Roderick. “The novices who are going and other Elites have already made their way over. We don’t want to be too far behind.”

They walked out of the Fortress together and towards the palace. Darron walked a little ahead, leaving Dracia to walk by Roderick’s side. She adjusted her sleeves constantly, feeling exposed and wrong. Roderick grabbed her hand and put it on his arm.

“You know you look beautiful, so stop worrying,” he said as he escorted her towards the palace.

“I just feel so out of place. Being out of uniform feels wrong now. I know it hasn’t been that long, but it seems like an age. Still, maybe I won’t be completely overshadowed by the Navalian princess dressed like this.”

“You are never overshadowed by anyone, Dracia, especially that little, pale woman.”

“I am afraid there are plenty out there who would disagree with you. She is known as a great beauty.”

“Plenty of people are wrong all the time. I believe you are worth ten of her in looks and manner, and I know the one who really counts in all of this does as well. You must see how he stares at you when he is with her. He longs for you to be by his side, not the foreign princess.”

“He can long for me all he wants. What matters is who is actually by his side at the end.”

“It will be you if you still want him. You have a claim over him that she could never have,” said Roderick as they approached the palace.

“I do still want him, Roderick. I know I am a fool, but I can not help it. I love him.”

“I know, Dracia, and if you are going to be a fool, it should be for love.”

She laughed a little as they walked through the palace gates and to the palace’s front door. The High Summer Festival was set up in the middle courtyard. Dracia and Roderick walked through the palace hall to a large set of double doors. As they exited to the large courtyard, the sun was starting to set, and candles and lanterns were lit around the space.

Half of the courtyard was covered in tables, where many ladies of the court already sat. There were tables on the sides covered in food and drinks. A quartet of musicians sat on a raised platform at the far end of the courtyard in front of a space that had been set up for dancing. As Roderick and Dracia walked further into the courtyard, they were met by Lord Ethen. He bowed to them both as Dracia curtsied, and Roderick returned his bow.

“My, my High Captain, I would say you clean up well, and it would be true, but you are always lovely. Saying so tonight would just be redundant. I will say this; I like this look as much as your usual uniform. I believe both suits you well.”

Dracia laughed as she took her arm off of Roderick’s. “Your charm is working tonight, I see.”

“It is, as well as my two very able feet. I was wondering if you might open the dancing with me. I can think of no greater honor than dancing the first with the High Captain of the Sentinel.”

“I would be honored, Lord Ethen.” Dracia took the arm he offered her, giving a small nod to Roderick, dismissing him.

They walked towards the dancing space to await the music when Prince Fannar met them. They stopped as all proper greetings were given.

“My dear, High Captain,” said Fannar. “You look exquisite tonight. I might be a little overcome by your beauty. I knew you were very pretty before, but to see you like this, I think you belong in the Winter Palace of Navalia.”

“I belong in the Fortress of the Sentinel, which is where I will stay for the foreseeable future,” responded Dracia.

“We will see, my dear.” He gave her a wink. “I was going to ask you for the first dance, but I believe you might have already been claimed. Will you dance the second with me?”

“I will,” said Dracia.

“Good, I will come take you from Lord Ethen directly.” Prince Fannar walked away.

“At least I can get that one over with early,” huffed Dracia.

“You are still not a fan of the Navalian prince?”

“No, not at all. Something about all the Navalians doesn’t sit right with me. I said they were intriguing, but the right word might have been frightening.”

“You once again show your wisdom, High Captain,” said Lord Ethen.

As they stood next to the dancing space, Dracia saw Leal standing across the way with Princess Lilith on his arm. He was staring at Dracia, seemingly ignoring the princess who was talking by his side. When he saw Dracia look at him, he gave her a small smile and nodded his head. She returned his nod and smile.

The music started and Ethen escorted her out on the dance floor. He put one hand on her waist and took her hand with the other as she placed her free hand on his back.

“You know, High Captain, you have made quite an impact on my grandmother,” said Ethen as they danced.

“Have I?” asked Dracia. “I don’t see how; we have only talked a few times.”

“She says she likes your spirit. She thinks many young women are much too tame, especially in foreign kingdoms. She was surprised to find one as confident and free-spirited as you in Lanoxan.”

“I am a bit of an oddity here. I am sure my mother would have preferred me to be a little meeker and tamer like most ladies of the court of Cassendar.”

“Then you will have to forgive me for calling your mother a fool. No one could meet you and think you should be anything other than who you are.”

“You are very kind, Lord Ethen,” said Dracia.

“No, I am very truthful, Captain,” said Ethen with a laugh.

They danced close to Leal and Princess Lilith. Dracia could see Leal was watching her as she danced with Ethen. She stared at him for a moment, dreaming of what it would be like to be in his arms for the first dance of the festival as his wife.

“Captain, I want to say that I have enjoyed getting to know you the past few weeks,” said Lord Ethen, causing Dracia to take her eyes off of Leal and look at him. “I am already becoming to think of you as a friend.”

“I have enjoyed meeting you as well, my lord,” said Dracia with sincerity. “I do not have many friends outside of the Sentinel, and it has been nice to have someone who seems to be on my side at court.”

“I am on your side, Captain. I know we haven’t known each other very long, but I want you to know if you ever needed something, even if it is just to talk to unburden your mind, I am a very willing and trustworthy friend.”

“I believe you are, my lord.” Dracia found that she did trust him. “I appreciate knowing I can come to you.”

He bent down, pulling her closer as he whispered in her ear, “You are right to want to avoid the Navalians. They are not trustworthy, and I am afraid they would see you to harm if it met their needs. Do not be alone with them at any time.”

He pulled back and gave her a friendly smile as though he had said nothing so serious. When their dance came to an end, Prince Fannar met her just off the dance floor. He swept her back to the dancing space and pulled her much too close for Dracia’s liking.

“My lady, I hope you do not mind if I call you my lady tonight due to the way you are dressed.”

Dracia gave a little shrug and a slight nod.

“My lady, I believe you are the most beautiful creature I have ever seen. When you walked into the courtyard, I almost lost my ability to think.”

Dracia laughed. “Those are pretty words, your highness, but I am sure you have seen many beautiful women in your travels and your own kingdom.”

“I have, but all of them bore me. You do not bore me, my lady. You make me want to know more and more about you in every way,” said the prince, his eyes glancing at her neckline.

Dracia felt herself blush as she looked away. His hand on her side was lightly rubbing against her, and it made her want to push him away and run, but she closed her eyes and thought of her daily training routine to hold it together.

“My lady, Dracia,” he said quietly. “You are so tempting. Every part of you enflames me in some way.”

Dracia looked around. She felt strange, as if she was not in control of her own thoughts or body.

“Do not be afraid, my dear,” he whispered. “You are just feeling the effects of my magic. It calls out for you, wanting you. I would not hurt you with it, though I could. Instead, I could give you great pleasure if you let me. I would only need your word that you would be mine in some way. Our magic demands some sort of price, after all.”

“Prince Fannar,” said Dracia with effort. “You cannot mean what you are saying.”

“But I do, my lovely one, I have never meant anything more. I want you desperately, and I get what I want. Navalians always get what they want.”

She felt a coldness sweep over her. Though the air was warm, and only a light wind blew, she felt as though she was plunged outside in the dead of winter. She tried to think of something to say to keep her mind off of the strange feelings.

“How do you find our High Summer festival, your highness?” asked Dracia. “Attending the worship of the king’s gods must have been odd for you.”

“Your gods are a little odd to me as they are very different than my own,” said Prince Fannar looking down at her. “You have four, correct?”

“Yes, Scriptor, the creator, Clementine the merciful, Medelia, the healer, and Mortial the one at the end,” said Dracia. “I know a little of the Navalian gods from my lessons as a girl.”

“Goddesses,” corrected Prince Fannar. “We worship the goddess of life. They guide us and keep us safe. They gave my family their power and the right to rule our kingdom. They show us the way, and how to not just survive, but truly live. Our kingdom is full of strong people who live very well. We do not have the usual famines or sicknesses of other kingdoms.”

“I am sure your kingdom has its fair share of troubles as any other,” said Dracia.

“Perhaps at times, but over the years our goddesses have made sure the strong have survived, leaving us a powerful kingdom full of those who are worthy.”

Dracia looked at him, not liking the tone of his voice as he talked about his goddesses. She was afraid to ask how someone was deemed worthy in the eyes of the goddesses of life or the royal family.

“You are very strong, my lady. I think you would fit in very nicely in Navalia with your skills and your beauty,” said Prince Fannar. “I have half a mind to take you to Navalia tonight and keep you there.”

“You are assuming I would be willing.” Dracia wondered if he was being flippant as his tone suggested or if he was half serious.

“I have ways to make sure you and I are of one mind, Dracia,” breathed Prince Fannar. “I could give you everything you ever wanted.”

She just looked at him, trying to not roll her eyes. As if he had any idea of what she wanted. He looked down at her, and Dracia again felt a deep coldness fill her. His icy blue eyes were making her uncomfortable as they gazed at her, and she was tempted to push him away and run.

Fortunately, the song ended, and Dracia was able to step out of the prince’s embrace. He took her hand and kissed it slowly, leaving a cold, numb feeling where his lips had touched her skin.

She quickly walked away from the dance floor and found a place to sit down. She sat and rubbed her hand, trying to get the numbness and cold to go away. It seemed to have sunk down into her skin, unable to be drawn out. Lexine came and sat by her, bringing her a drink.

“Dracia, I have to speak with you,” said Lexine as Dracia picked up the glass of wine and drank half of it in one gulp.

“What about?” asked Dracia.

“Not here, not in the open. Meet me behind the far wall in thirty minutes. I have to go dance with Lord Hensley’s son first.”

Dracia looked at Lexine and nodded.

“Dracia, are you alright?” asked Lexine with concern, putting her hand over Dracia’s. “Your hand is like ice. You aren’t ill, are you?”

“No, I am well, Lex. Go do what you need to do, and I will see you in a few minutes.”

Dracia drank the rest of her wine as Lady Elise came and sat by her.

“You look very lovely tonight, Captain,” said Lady Elise smiling. “I particularly like seeing your long, beautiful hair free from its usual braids.”

“It does feel good to let it down after having it up for so long.” Dracia gave the Lady Elise a small smile. “How are you tonight, my lady?”

“Oh, fine, tired by all this nonsense. The older you get, the more these parties seem like a waste of time. You are still young, my dear. Why are you sitting here, instead of dancing?”

“I find myself tired after my first two dances, especially the second one.”

“Yes, I would be quite done in as well if I had to talk to that odious prince,” said Lady Elise with distaste. “You seem to enjoy yourself with my grandson.”

“I did. I believe we are becoming friends rather quickly.”

“I believe you are, and it is no wonder. I think you might be similar people,” observed Lady Elise. “Ethen used to love to study about the Sentinel growing up. I think if his father would have let him, he might have traveled here and joined.”

“I should invite him out to the Fortress. I would be very happy to give him a tour and let him see the Disciplines that are going on right now.”

“I think he would enjoy it, “ said Lady Elise.

“My lady, Captain,” greeted Leal as he walked up to them. “I hope you are both very well tonight.”

“We are, your highness, except this beautiful lady is not dancing,” said Lady Elise looking at Dracia. “You cannot let her go to waste sitting here. It would be against your royal duty.”

“It would, my lady,” said Leal smiling down. “Will you dance with me, Captain? Before you answer, remember I could give you a royal command to dance with me if I have to.”

Dracia took a breath. “I would be happy to dance with you, your highness.” She stood up.

Leal took her hand and started walking her to the dancing space. He rubbed his fingers against the outside of it and looked at her. “Your hand is very cold, Dracia.” He put his arm around her waist and pulled her close, probably too close for ones who were supposed to be casual acquaintances.

“I am fine. I am sure it will warm up eventually,” said Dracia as they started to dance.

“I will have to find time to show some more courtesy to Lady Elise if she is going to do me such favors as pushing you into my arms.”

“I like her. She is an interesting woman,” said Dracia, feeling more like herself after her rest.

“She seems to like you, which shows good judgement,” said Leal as his hand rubbed against Dracia’s side.

She sighed, feeling comfort from Leal’s hand instead of the anxiety that came from Fannar’s.

“Dracia, the moment I saw you, I wanted to come to you. I’m having a very hard time not bending down and kissing your lovely neck at the moment.”

“You look very handsome as well, my prince.” She looked up into his hazel eyes. “I know you aren’t a fan of wearing your crown, but something about it makes me want you more than even usual.”

“Then I will find ways to wear it more often, my love,” he said, leaning down slightly to whisper into her ear. “There is one for you waiting in the palace. I will take great pleasure in seeing it on top of your head someday.”

He straighten up and looked around. “Did your scouts get off alright?”

“They did,” said Dracia seeing that some couples had come close to them, including the king dancing with her mother. “I sent out three groups to different areas of the kingdom. They should be back in no less than seven days.”

“Good,” said Leal. “I am glad you were able to send others out while you stayed and oversaw the Disciplines. I want to thank you for taking my advisement.”

“What you had to say was wise. I just needed to think it over for a day or two. It doesn’t mean that I won’t be needed out in the kingdom soon, though. If our scouts find anything, I could be riding out at any time.”

“I know,” said Leal with a sigh. “I appreciate your dedication to the Sentinel and the kingdom.”

“I appreciate your concern for the Sentinel,” said Dracia.

“The Sentinel is very important to me. Preserving it and keeping it strong is my top priority. The kingdom cannot stand without the Sentinel. I don’t believe it could go on,” said Leal with much feeling.

Dracia wished she could take him by the hand and lead him away from everyone. She wished she could take him somewhere and show him how much he meant to her. “The kingdom needs the royal family as well. We must protect our king and our crown prince to be able to survive. I take my duty very seriously. I have sworn to do so and I always keep my vows.”

“We will have to meet soon to plan for the kingdom’s future, Captain,” said Leal.

“Yes, very soon. I hope you know my door is always open for any meetings with my future king.” She hoped he would come to her tonight.

The dance ended, and Leal gave Dracia a long kiss on the back of her hand while looking at her. She saw his eyes flash green for a brief moment. When she took her hand back, she noticed the feeling had come back to it, and it was no longer cold to the touch. She smiled at him as he turned and walked away.

“Dracia,” said her father coming up to her. He took her hand and kissed it before leading her to the side of the courtyard. “I’ve been wanting a word with you, my dear.”

“Of course, father, I am willing to speak with you at any time possible.”

“I have heard there are some troubling reports out in the kingdom,” said her father.

“Yes, I have sent several scouting groups out to see what can be found. I am afraid some Gedonial forces are prowling our lands, though I’m not sure where they are getting their numbers. They must be getting help somewhere.”

Dracia’s father led her further to the side of the courtyard, away from others as much as possible. “Dracia, I have heard rumors of an uprising in the kingdom.”

“Uprising? Who is planning an uprising?” asked Dracia.

“I’m not sure. I have been sent messages with no signature asking me if I am interested in joining. I have been given no instructions on how to do that yet.”

“You aren’t considering joining to unseat our king, are you father?” asked Dracia as dread ran through her.

“No, I am not, but you must admit he has been acting odd the last few years. I know some lords have been concerned, but I didn’t know it would come to this.”

“You must tell me if you receive instructions on who to contact. I have to know who is planning to overthrow our king,” said Dracia.

Her father squeezed her hand. “Dracia, I think you might consider resigning from the Sentinel.”

“What?” asked Dracia taking her hand from her father. “You can’t mean it.”

“I do. There is no reason for you to serve. There never has been. I should never have allowed it.” Her father shook his head. “I know why you left. I know how awful she was to you, and I should have put a stop to it, but now I have a place for you to go. A place you can be safe and happy.”

“What do you mean?” asked Dracia.

“I have been speaking with Lord Quain. He has invited you to go to Siccaria for a few years. He thinks you would do well there. His mother and son are already fond of you, Dracia. You would live amongst the nobles. I think you would feel very at home in the Aurorial Palace and its lands. Maybe you could find a husband and stay there.”

“I will not run away from my kingdom or my duty,” said Dracia in a harsh whisper. “I have sworn a vow to serve my kingdom and my king. I will not abandon that vow.”

“Please don’t make a decision tonight, Dracia. Think about it. You are the daughter of the highest lord in this kingdom and so much more than you even realize. You were meant for more than who you are right now.”

“More than the High Captain of the Sentinel? I serve with great honor. There are also other things here I cannot leave. People I care about.”

“If those people care about you, they will want you to get out of harm’s way. I am scared for you, my dear.”

“I cannot hear this, not tonight, not ever. I will not change my mind father.”

“I will come to see you again soon, Dracia. Please think over what I have said to you.”

He turned and walked back into the middle of the courtyard. Dracia shook her head and took several deep breaths. She couldn’t believe what he had said to her. Leave the Sentinel and the kingdom? He wanted her to go live in Siccaria, to stay there permanently. She could not do it, and She would not. She could not leave her fellow Elites, especially Roderick. She could never leave Leal. It was impossible. She knew her father would talk to her later about the matter again, but she would not change her mind.

Her thoughts went to the other matter he spoke of. There were uprisings in the kingdom. It sounded like these uprisings had been trying to reach all the kingdom’s lords if they were contacting Dracia’s father. What could she do? She would have to hope her scouts found something on their journeys that would lead back to the source.

Dracia realized it was time to meet Lexine. She looked up and saw Lexine move towards the far wall. Dracia looked around to see no one was watching her and quickly followed. As she got close to the wall, a woman walked by her, her hand brushing Dracia’s. The woman stopped for a brief moment and stared at her. Dracia looked at her with a raised eyebrow, seeing the blonde woman was dressed in the Navalian style.

“Pardon, my lady,” said the woman with a shallow curtsey before she turned and walked away.

Dracia watched her go before she walked around the wall. Lexine grabbed Dracia’s hands as soon as Dracia moved behind the wall. She brought her close.

“Galen knows about you and Leal,” she said without any preamble.

“What?” asked Dracia shocked, wondering how much information she was going to receive tonight. “Are you sure?”

“Yes, he brought it up at the academy the other day.”

“How does he know?”

“I don’t know. He was very vague about it. I think he was worried about his brother’s part in it.”

“He knows that much?” asked Dracia with surprise

Lexine shushed her. “I don’t know what he knows, but he has sworn to tell no one. I think we can trust him, Dracia.”

“I believe we can as well, but I will have to talk to him at some point to see exactly what he knows and where he heard it from. Maybe I will have Roderick do it,” mused Dracia.

“If he heard it from someone, that means people are talking. You need to be careful, Dracia. If my father thinks the rumor is out in the kingdom, I am scared of what he might do. I would hate to think my father would hurt you, but he hasn’t been himself in a long while.”

“I know, Lex, and I will be careful. If rumors are spreading, I may have to tell your brother we need to stay away from each other for a while.”

“He will not like that. I doubt he will listen,” said Lexine. “I think he is getting tired of waiting for father.”

“I know, but I have to protect your brother and his future. I will talk to Galen first and see what he knows. We will go from there.”

Lexine nodded. “I will go back to the courtyard first. You wait a few moments before you follow.”

“Yes, of course, go on,” said Dracia. “Also, Lexine, I would like to talk to you of Galen sometime soon, as well.”

Lexine stopped and looked at Dracia, rolling her eyes. “Really? I’ve already told Leal there is nothing but friendship between us.”

“If I remember, that is what I told you about your brother and me for at least a year.”

Lexine shook her head and walked around the wall. Dracia stood still for a few minutes, collecting herself before she started walking towards the wall and back to the courtyard. She felt like she had received too much information in too short of time. She hoped her surprises were over for the night, but it seems it was not to be. She was meet by Prince Fannar before she could walk back out to the courtyard. He took her hands and stopped her from progressing.

“My dear, how fortunate I saw you walk back here. I waited until your friend had left, as I was anxious to have you to myself,” said Prince Fannar smiling.

“I am sorry, your highness, but I have no desire to be alone with you. Will you please let me pass?” She did not want to deal with the prince at the moment.

“I think not. I would like to talk to you about our future,” said Prince Fannar.

“We do not have a future,” said Dracia adamantly. She moved to walk around him, but he shifted, blocking her way.

“Our future could be more than you could ever imagine, loveliest one,” said Prince Fannar leaning towards her. “I would like to show you a little of it tonight.”

Dracia started to feel uneasiness creep up on her. His breath was so cold against her cheek as he spoke. It sent fearful shivers throughout her body. She was desperate to leave him.

“Please let me pass. I would hate to hurt you in any way, but if you do not let me pass, I will not hold back,” said Dracia firmly.

Prince Fannar laughed. “You have so much spirit and passion. You will not hurt me, my dear.” He put his hands on Dracia’s upper arms. She felt cold and as if everything were blurry. She shook her head to try to clear it.

“You must have seen how much I have wanted you for a while now. You could not misunderstand all my attentions to you,” said Prince Fannar as he pushed Dracia to the wall.

She put her hands flat against the stone surface by her sides, trying to find anything to hold on to. She wanted to summon her Mystics to help her, but she could not concentrate. All she could feel was the cold seep through her body as his hands held on to her.

“Now relax, my lovely, there is no need to be so scared. I said I would never hurt you, and I meant it.” Fannar moved very close to her, trapping her against the wall with his body.

He moved one hand up to her neck, letting his finger slide up and down it. “You are so very lovely. I find myself entranced by you like no other. There are many things I would love to share with you if you will let me.”

Dracia closed her eyes and shook her head, feeling his cool breath again cheek.

“You don’t want to hear of all the things I have to offer you? You don’t want to imagine what it would be like to be my wife, to one day be the Queen of Navalia?”

Dracia opened her eyes and looked at him to find his face inches from hers. She wanted to tell him she was not interested in anything he had to say and push him away, but she found herself silent and unable to move.

“My father is somewhat resistant of an alliance between you and me, but I think I could change his mind, especially after Prince Leal marries my sister and unites our kingdoms. Even if my father doesn’t relent, I must have you in some way. You can come to Navalia, and I will put you in a position that all other women would envy.”

He leaned in and kissed her cheek slowly. Dracia could feel the coldness from the kiss spread through the side of her face. It made it seem as if it were hard to breathe. She wanted nothing more than to be away from this man.

“Would you not like to be mine, Dracia?” asked Prince Fanar, inches from her lips.

She looked at him and shivered, taking as deep of breaths as she could. She swore she could read his thoughts, and they made her angry. He would not get what he wanted from her.

“No,” whispered Dracia.

Fannar leaned back a little and looked at her with a wicked smile. “Did you just tell me no?”

“I do not want this,” said Dracia through gritted teeth. “Let me go.”

He laughed slightly. “You do not know what you want, my dear. You cannot resist all I have to offer you. I plan to treat you very well.”

Fannar reached up and caressed her cheek. She didn’t think it was possible to feel any colder than she already did, but she was wrong. She felt as though ice was running through her veins.

“My magic does call for you, Dracia. I know you can feel it, and I know it seems disconcerting, but do not be afraid.”

Fannar leaned forward and kissed her lips. She kept her mouth firmly closed as his tongue slid across her bottom lip. She tried to work up the will to push him away, but she felt frozen into place as his hands moved down to her waist.

A voice made him pull back suddenly.

“Fannar, what are you doing back here?” asked Lord Ethen angrily.

Fannar looked behind him at Ethen while keeping his hands on Dracia. “I’m entertaining our Captain, and you are not needed, Lord Ethen. Kindly go back to the party.”

Lord Ethen walked forward, looking at Dracia. “Your sister and father are looking for you, Fannar. I suggest you go back now.”

“Why?” asked Fannar angrily. “They can’t need anything urgently from me. Go back and tell them I am busy at the moment.”

“You will go now. The Captain obviously does not wish for any entertainment you have to show her. If you do not go now, you and I can have a more in-depth discussion about this, one I don’t think you will enjoy.”

Prince Fannar looked at Lord Ethen before turning to Dracia and kissing her cheek. “I will find you later, my lovely.” He finally released her. “Ethen, I would suggest from this point forward, you stay out of my affairs unless you want to end up on mine and Navalia’s bad side.”

Prince Fannar straightened his shirt and walked around the wall and back out to the courtyard. Dracia felt her knees go weak, and she slumped down against the wall as Lord Ethen walked forward to catch her.

“Easy, Captain,” said Lord Ethen softly as he pulled her up gently. He leaned in close to her. “Are you alright? Did he hurt you?”

Dracia didn’t want to cry, she tried not to, but she felt the tears leak out of her eyes. Lord Ethen pulled her to him and held her as tears ran down her cheeks. She wondered what Lord Ethen thought of her, finding her alone with Fannar.

“I didn’t want it,” she said quietly. “I didn’t want to kiss him. I didn’t even want to be alone with him.”

“I know.” Lord Ethen pulled her gently in front of him to look at her. “He thinks he can take whatever he wants from anyone.”

“I wanted to stop him, but I couldn’t. I tried, but I just couldn’t.”

’He has powerful magic, and it is hard to resist. You did nothing wrong,” said Lord Ethen.

Dracia took a shuddering breath and looked down.

“Let me get someone for you,” offered Lord Ethen. “Let me go fetch your prince.”

Dracia looked up at him “What? Who do you mean?”

“Captain, I know the look of love a man has for a woman. Prince Leal cannot keep his eyes off of you. It is the same way I look at the woman I love back home. Let me go get him for you.”

“No, he cannot be seen with me, not like this. His father has forbidden him to be with me in public.”

“Why? Why would the king not approve of you? You are high born, beautiful, and much too good for his son.”

“He is set on him making a better match. He wants Leal to marry Princess Lilith.”

“I was afraid that was the truth and so was the father. That match will ruin your kingdom. The king must see that somehow, but now is not the time for this conversation. How can I help you?”

“I just want to go to my rooms. I just want to go back to the Fortress. I am so cold and tired. I have no desire for any more of the festivities.”

“That’s the Navalian magic you are feeling. You will need to make sure you keep warm. I believe it will wear off eventually.”. He started rubbing Dracia’s arms. “Can I fetch anyone for you, one of your seconds?”

“Yes, please get Roderick. Tell him where I am, and that I wish to go home.”

“Will you be alright here? I will not be gone long,” said Lord Ethen as he continued to rub her arms.

“Yes, please hurry. I just want to get to my rooms and go to bed.”

Lord Ethen nodded and let her go, walking quickly to the courtyard. He stopped once and looked back at her before leaving the area. Dracia took a breath and wrapped herself in her arms. She was so cold. She felt as if she was getting even colder, though she wasn’t sure how it was possible. She put a hand to her cheek Prince Fannar had kissed. It was so cold it stung. She thought she could feel something like a soft frost on her cheek. She rubbed it, but the slight icy covering would not go away.

She felt more tears come to her eyes, but she held them back. She didn’t want to cry anymore. She wanted to go back to her Fortress and surround herself with everything that made her feel strong and in control.

“Dracia,” said Roderick as he walked around the wall with Ethen behind him. “What is wrong?”

She looked at him and felt a few tears fall from her eyes. He walked to her and took her hands.

“What happened?”

“Prince Fannar happened,” said Lord Ethen darkly. “He used his magic on her and took advantage of her. He thinks he can have whatever he wants. She did well to resist him. His magic is strong.”

“What did he do?” asked Roderick angrily, looking at Dracia.

“He kissed me,” said Dracia quietly. “I couldn’t stop him.”

Roderick looked down at Dracia. “You must tell Prince Leal and the king. I don’t care who he is; Prince Fannar cannot get away with this. Let me go see him,. I will take care of it. I won’t let him do this to you or anyone else again.”

Dracia shook her head. “I just want to go home, now. I will decide what to do later, but now I just want to get back to the Fortress.”

“Dracia,” said Roderick imploringly.

“I don’t want to deal with it, not tonight. I just want to go to the Fortress,” said Dracia with tears in her eyes.

Roderick sighed and then nodded at her. “We will go back now if you wish it. Darron can watch out for the novices, half their parents are here anyway.”

Dracia took her hands away from him and wiped her eyes. She felt herself shiver with cold. Even though it was the middle of summer, she wished she had her cloak with her.

“Don’t leave her alone, tonight,” instructed Lord Ethen to Roderick. “She is feeling the effects of the Navalian magic, and she needs to keep warm.”

Roderick nodded as Dracia stood up as straight as she could, trying to appear as if nothing was amiss. She walked to the wall with Roderick right behind her, and they stepped out onto the courtyard. She made her way around the edges, hoping to avoid anyone.

As she got to the door back into the palace, she turned and saw Leal looking at her. He looked at her with concern, and she felt a few tears fall from her eyes. She wanted nothing more at the moment than to be held by him. He looked startled and actually took a few steps towards her as Roderick took her hand and led her out of the courtyard and into the palace to go home.

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