Leal put his crown on his head and glanced in the mirror to make sure everything looked in place for the evening. He wasn’t looking forward to escorting the Navalian princess for another night, but he was excited to see Dracia. She had been angry with him for a few days after he came to see her in the tavern. She did not like what he asked her to do.
He knew she was planning on going back out into the kingdom to see about other raiding parties she was afraid existed. He could not bear the idea of her going back out there so soon after being injured. Her arm was healing well, but it still had a long red line from wrist to midway up her forearm, showing just how serious the cut had been. He knew he could not keep her safe in the Fortress forever, but he didn’t want her riding off all over the kingdom for weeks, not knowing what she was facing.
He had asked her to send out groups of scouts throughout the kingdom. Small forces who could check all areas and see if there were enemy soldiers around the kingdom, ready to strike Winsdell. At least that way, she wouldn’t be gone for weeks, and if she had to ride out, she would know what awaited her.
She didn’t like him planning things out for her. She didn’t want him to think he had to protect her. Even when Roderick said it was a good plan, she resisted. Leal tried to make her understand he was not trying to go over her head. He was just trying to help her. They should share their burdens with each other. One day when he was king, and she was his queen, he would want her to help him rule. He would depend on her advice and skills.
She had finally relented a few days ago, admitting it was a good plan. After several days apart, he had gone to her that night, happy to be near her again. He didn’t want to ever be apart from her. The nights they shared gave him the strength to face the lonely, hard days. Days where he had to listen to Princess Lilith prattle on about a future that would never be.
“All ready, your highness?” asked Malven as Leal walked into his sitting room.
“Yes, I believe so. If I can get down a little early, I can speak with Princess Lilith and get that over with. Hopefully, I can dance with her first and be done with her.”
“She is very insistent that she will be your wife,” said Malven. “The whole palace is talking of it. Many have asked me to confirm.”
“And what do you say, Malven?”
“I say that I do not discuss your personal business,” said Malven.
“That is the correct answer, but what do you really say?”
“I do tell anyone who asks that I do not discuss your personal affairs, but I also said, if I were a betting man, I would put my money on the princess going back to Navalia very unhappy.”
“Good, I don’t want anyone to think what she says has any truth to it. I will not find myself bonded to her just because she runs her mouth. It would be impossible to fulfill any obligation she thinks I have towards her. She will only look like a fool if she keeps talking of any ideas of marrying me.”
“Will you be sleeping elsewhere after the festival, your highness?” asked Malven
“Yes, I plan to be away as soon as the party from the Sentinel returns to the Fortress so be watching.”
“I will,” said Malven. “I will also see what I can observe for you.”
“Keep an eye on my sister and the novice called Galen. I would like to see if anything is going on there.”
“Are you worried for her?”
“No, not at all. Galen Ellis, like his brother, is very honorable. I would trust Galen as much as Roderick and that should tell you something.”
“I am just curious about Lexine. I have never heard her speak much of any man until now.”
“I will see what I can find.”
“Thank you, Malven. I will see you later in the evening,” said Prince Leal as he opened the door.
“Have a pleasant evening with your princess, your highness,” said Malven with a smirk.
“We will see, Malven.” Leal he left his rooms. He walked to the middle courtyard to find that many lords and ladies of the court had already arrived. He saw Princess Lilith standing by his mother’s rose garden, holding one of the red roses in her hand, talking to a blonde woman from her court. Leal blew out a puff of air and steadied himself.
As he walked towards Princess Lilith, the blonde woman gave a quick curtsey and left. He walked up to Lilith watching her look at the rose in her hand. As he got close, he saw the rose wither and die quickly. She let it go and it fell to the ground.
“I’m not sure my mother would like you touching her roses if that is the result,” said Leal coming to stand next to Lilith.
“I am sorry, Prince Leal, sometimes I just need to release my magic a little, but I must repay for what I have taken.” Lilith found a new bud on one of the bushes and touched it. It opened up to a beautiful red rose. Leal studied it to see a light frost on the tips of the petals.
“I cannot take a life without creating something new. Our goddesses demand balance,” said Lilith brightly.
“So, you can give life or take it away,” said Leal looking at the princess.
“Oh yes, though I am not usually permitted to use my life and death magic on people unless absolutely necessary. Navalian magic is very powerful and it is a responsibility. Our goddesses demand we take that responsibility very seriously.”
“It is still a little frightening,” said Leal.
“And your power is not? I have heard about the power of your magic, though you have not shown it to me yet. I hear you can throw grown men through walls with just your mind. I hear you can shield yourself and those you care about.”
“You should be careful about trusting what you hear,” said Leal with a smile.
“Yes, many things get exaggerated as the tales are told.”
“Or sometimes they get dismissed and degraded until they are only a pale shadow of the truth,” said Leal.
She looked at him curiously as they were meet by Lord Ethen and his father.
“Good evening,” said Lord Ethen to them both as he bowed.
“To you as well, Ethen, Lord Quain,” returned Leal with his own bow. “I am sorry you are away from your homeland to celebrate High Summer, but I am glad you could join us.”
“I do find I miss some things about Siccaria tonight,” said Lord Ethen, “but that does not mean there are not things I am greatly looking forward to experiencing here.”
“Such as?” asked Leal.
“I’m rather anxious to spend time with your High Captain, Prince Leal.” Ethen gave him a lopsided smile. “The more I speak with her, the more fascinated I am by the woman.”
Leal felt a jealous surge flow through him, causing his power to become agitated. He closed his eyes very briefly to gain control.
“I agree, son, there is something about her. I have spoken to her father about her coming to visit Siccaria,” said Lord Quain.
“That would be very difficult for her since she has her duties as High Captain,” said Leal slowly.
“Her father seemed to think her circumstances might change sometime soon,” said Quain with a shrug. “If they do, we would all be glad to host her at the Aurorial Palace. I know my mother would be particularly glad to have her as her personal guest.”
“I don’t know what Lord Arwel thinks he knows, but I believe the High Captain is well settled in the Sentinel. I can assure you the Cassendars are very satisfied with her reign there.” Leal wanted very much to know what Dracia’s father could mean.
“I only know what Lord Arwel told me. Perhaps, he knows more about his daughter than you,” said Quain.
“I would hate to have any disruption to the Sentinel any time soon,” chimed in Princes Lilith. “Especially with a certain event that will take place shortly that will cause the Cassendars to travel. My brother is also counting on the High Captain visiting Navalia when Prince Leal and I go for our goddesses’ blessing.”
“Oh,” said Quain with raised eyebrows. “I had not realized any decisions had been made. Should I congratulate you, Prince Leal?”
“No, you should not,” said Leal looking down at Princess Lilith. “No decisions have been made or are going to be made. The princess seems to be mistaken.”
The princess laughed. “So stubborn, my prince, but you will see in the end. You must know our fathers have talked of little else during our visit. My father ensures me our engagement will be announced very soon.”
Leal gave a loud sigh of exasperation. “I ask you to please desist in speaking of this. I ask this for your own sake. You will look like a fool if you keep speaking this nonsense.”
“I am never fool, my prince,” said Princess Lilith with a smile.
“Come along, father, I want to move closer to the entrance. I hope to catch the High Captain early so I can claim the first dance with her.” Ethen nodded at Leal and then walked away, his father following him.
“My brother will not like that,” said Princess Lilith. “He was determined to dance with the High Captain first. I don’t understand his fascination with her, but if he wants her, he shall have her in some way. I will have to get used to being around her.”
“You and your brother assume too much,” said Leal angrily.
“No, we just know what we want, and we know how to gain our desires. We have never been disappointed yet. All will turn out well for us, you will see. I don’t know why you are so against this. I will make you very happy.”
“I suggest we stop talking about this tonight. We will come to no agreement, and it will not do well for either of us if the guests and our fathers see us arguing.”
“I suppose you are correct, but you should not be surprised when everything becomes just as I have said.”
Leal shook his head but said no more. He hoped to be done with Princess Lilith for the night soon. He would open the dancing with her, then find ways to avoid her the rest of the evening. He looked around the courtyard, seeing it was filling up quickly. He saw many novices and Elites from the Sentinel, but she was not there yet. He had to remind himself to not look for her familiar black and silver uniform. She would not be dressed so tonight.
“We should move toward the dancing space, Prince Leal. I believe the music will be starting soon,” said Princess Lilith.
Leal nodded as he offered the princess his arm, and they walked to join others who were waiting to dance. He stood in silence with the princess holding on to his arm. He could not see the door well from where he was as people filled the space around him. He wanted to see her before the music started. He just wanted to know she was there.
He looked around the half-circle of couples who waited for the dancing to start. Across from him, he noticed Lord Ethen walk up and stand with someone on his arm. It took Leal only one moment to realize Ethen had successfully claimed the first dance from Dracia. She was radiant, but she always was.
Leal gazed at her. He knew he was staring. He knew he should look away, but he could not. She was dressed in a dark blue gown that accentuated every good thing about her figure. Her hair was half down, and long, wavy, chestnut locks flowed around her shoulders. He wanted to go to her immediately and demand she dance with him. She was who he should have been opening this dance with. She should be the one on his arm, not this foreign princess who refused to listen to reason. Lilith was chatting away now, but Leal had no idea what she was saying. If she required a response, he could not give her one.
Dracia turned and looked at him. He could see her bright brown eyes shining from where he was. He smiled at her, trying not to be too obvious as he nodded his head in greeting slightly. The music started, and Leal was forced to put his attention on Princess Lilith.
“I see Lord Ethen did claim the High Captain for the first dance,” said Lilith as they danced.
“He did.” Leal looked over and saw Dracia smiling brightly as Ethen talked to her.
“I can see my brother did not dance. He is watching her, and he does not seem happy.”
Leal turned slightly and saw that Fannar did have his eyes on Dracia and Ethen. They seemed to be even a colder blue than normal. He barely blinked as he followed Ethen and Dracia’s progression.
“I hope the nobles of Siccaria aren’t serious in having the High Captain come stay with them; my brother would be furious. He might convince my father to some sort of action against them.”
“Your father would risk starting a war over something like that?”
“Oh yes,” said Lilith. “If my brother has declared the High Captain is his, then the nobles taking her to Siccaria would be stealing her away from him. Bonds are already stretched between our two kingdoms. Something like that could break the bonds entirely.”
“Does the High Captain get no say in this? What if she does not want your brother?”
Lilith laughed. “That will not be a problem, not once she spends more time with him. He is very persuasive, and he can offer her many things. She will be much happier in the Winter Palace of Navalia with him than in that dirty Fortress, fighting pointless battles.”
“You do not know the High Captain, well, princess. She has many ties that keep her here in Lanoxan. She is very dedicated to the Sentinel, and I don’t believe she will leave it any time soon.”
“Unless she has a good reason.” Lilith raised an eyebrow and giggled.
She will have a good reason to leave one day, but it will not be your brother, thought Leal.
The dance finally ended, and Lilith was claimed by some lord, leaving Leal to himself. He walked off the dance space to find a drink as his sister walked over to join him.
“Why aren’t you dancing with your young man?” asked Leal, taking a sip of his wine.
“We danced the first. I can hardly dance with him again,” replied Lexine. “And he is not my young man. He is my friend.”
“There is that blush on your cheeks again, sister,” said Leal smiling.
“Only because you will not stop teasing me about him,” said Lexine. “He is just a friend I enjoy talking with.”
“Why aren’t you talking with him now?”
“He is speaking with his mother at the moment,” said Lexine. “There is something I need to speak with you about, brother, but it will have to wait until I can talk with Dracia. I would like her opinion first.”
“That sounds rather serious,” said Leal concerned.
“It might be, but I don’t want to jump to any conclusions. Just be careful showing your feelings in public. You are becoming quite obvious with your looks towards her, you know.”
“I can’t help it, Lex. It seems unnatural to not be able to touch her, hold her, and talk to her as I should.”
Lexine gave him a commiserating look. “And she is so very lovely tonight. I like seeing her dressed in her court dress. She looks like my friend again.”
“She is your friend no matter how she is dressed.”
“I know, but seeing her in her uniform reminds me of how much danger she is always in. It reminds me of all the responsibility she has weighing on her. I know she chose this for herself, but I hate it for her. She deserves to be happy and not worry so much.”
Leal nodded. “She will be safe and happy soon. I will see to it.”
“Father is coming this way if you want to get out of here. He is walking with Lord Hensley and that boring son of his, so it looks like he will want me. Take your chance and slip away,” said Lexine.
Leal gave his sisters arm a quick, affectionate squeeze and walked away towards the back of the room. He didn’t want to speak to his father at the moment. Leal would have to tell the king to stop the rumors of any engagement, but he would do that in private very soon.
He found a place in the back of the room to drink his wine and stay out of the way. He didn’t really want to dance, not if he couldn’t dance with the one woman he actually wanted to hold in his arms. He knew at some point he would have to dance with some young lady to do his duty, but he could sit out a few first.
He drank his wine and looked for Dracia. She was not dancing at the moment, so he looked to the tables in front of him. He spotted her sitting at a table with Lady Elise. Leal drained his glass and put it on a nearby table. Perhaps he couldn’t ask Dracia to dance, but he could stop and speak with her. He could look at her, at least for one moment.
He made his way to the table to see Dracia and Lady Elise looking very friendly, talking together. The Siccarians did seem to enjoy being around Dracia. They had said they wanted her to join them for a time. Leal didn’t believe Dracia would leave him or the Sentinel and go, but what if she thought he wasn’t an option? Would she choose a life of security and ease with the nobles of Siccaria? It didn’t matter because he knew she had already made her choice, and her choice was him. He would make sure she understood they would be together as they should soon.
“My lady, Captain,” said Leal as he walked up to them. “I hope you are both very well tonight.”
Dracia really was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. He had a nice view of her from his current position.
Lady Elise told Leal he should ask Dracia to dance. She said it would be against his royal duty to ignore Dracia sitting there. He could not believe his good fortune. Oh, you wonderful woman, Lady Elise, he thought. She was giving him an opportunity he would not have had. He could not refuse this request by Lady Elise.
“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.”
Was he being too flirtatious? Probably so, but he could not help it. She did bring out his playful side much of the time.
She stood and accepted his invitation. He took her hand and led her to the dance floor, but her hand did not feel right. He rubbed his fingers over the back of it. It was cold, and there was something else as well. Something that made the hairs rise on his arms, and his power flow through him. He did not like whatever was resting there on his Dracia’s hand. He took a breath and settled himself.
“Your hand is so cold, Dracia,” he said as they walked out onto the dancing space. He put his arm around her waist and pulled her as close as he dared.
She assured him she was fine, and Leal tried to put it out of his mind as he wrapped his hand around her waist and held her cold hand with his own. He focused on having her so close to him. He reveled in everything about her presence. He gazed into her lovely eyes. He marveled at how soft her skin looked. He took a breath and smelled her fresh scent. She always smelled like spring to him.
They spoke a little of Lady Elise as he rubbed his hand lightly against her side. He wanted so much to pick her up and take her somewhere to be alone with her. His rooms sounded like the perfect place. They should be her rooms as well, after all. He longed to kiss her lovely neck and he told her so. She flirted back, mentioning how him wearing his crown made her want him even more.
You wonderful, naughty thing, he thought with a smile. She called him her prince. He was very aware of the difference he felt when she said it than we he was forced to hear it from that foreign princess. Dracia knew exactly the effect she had on him. She enjoyed it, this power she had over him. He could tell she enjoyed it. He didn’t mind it. He was happy to admit he was lost to her, but he knew he had some power over her too.
“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 wanted to say more, but he noticed other couples, including his father and Dracia’s mother, had come close. He straightened up and very unwilling put some space between them. They discussed the scouts she had sent off into the kingdom. She thanked him for his advisement, and he knew it was her way of apologizing to him while still keeping some of her control.
She would have to go back out in the kingdom soon. He knew she would. He hated everything about it, but it was who she was, at least for a time. She would serve her kingdom as her duty demanded it. Leal respected her decisions; he just wanted to keep her safe. He wanted to pull her close and tell her so. He wanted to tell her he thought she was a brave and brilliant High Captain.
Instead, he said, “I appreciate your dedication to the Sentinel and the kingdom.” He hoped she would understand what he was trying to say.
“I appreciate your concern for the Sentinel.” She stared at him.
“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. He could not go on without her. He would be completely lost without her. He could never be king without her by his side.
“The kingdom needs the royal family as well. We must protect our king and our crown prince to be able to go on. I take my duty very seriously. I have sworn to do so. I always keep my vows.”
She gave him such an intense look of love he didn’t know how he was resisting the urge to kiss her in front of all these people. He wanted to declare then and there that he would have no other woman than her.
“We will have to meet soon to plan for the kingdom’s future, Captain,” croaked Leal, pulling her a little closer.
“Yes, very soon. I hope you know that my door is always open for any meetings with my future king.”
There it was again, her ability to discompose him with simple words. He wished she could read his mind so she could see how much he loved her.
The dance ended, and Leal gave Dracia a long kiss on the back of her hand while looking at her. Hel felt something odd the moment his lips touched her skin. The coldness was there, but there was power underneath it. His own power responded immediately before Leal could control it. It did not want whatever it was on Dracia’s skin to be there. He felt his power draw it out and overpower it. He felt the strange essence for one moment against his lips and then it was gone. He noticed her hand had begun to warm back up as he let it go. She smiled at him and then turned away.
Leal spent the next dance with some lower noblewoman of Siccaria. She was not unpleasant, but Leal was distracted, worrying about what had just happened. What had been on Dracia’s hand? It had felt wrong, almost sinister. His power still had not settled well within him after kissing Dracia’s hand. It made Leal feel slightly ill and off balanced.
After the dance, he looked for Dracia. He just wanted to catch a glimpse of her to see she was well. He looked over the dance floor, but she was not there. He looked at the tables, but she was sitting at none of them. He started to grow concerned. He looked for her seconds. He saw Darron talking with Princess Lilith and another woman of the Navalian court, but he could not find Roderick.
He was about to go look for his sister to see if she knew where Dracia might be when he saw her walking on the edge of the room with Roderick holding her hand. Something wasn’t right. She wasn’t holding herself as she usually did. Something about her did not seem well. He watched as she walked to the door to the palace.
She turned and their eyes met. He could see the pain in her eyes. He could see something was terribly wrong. Tears started falling down her cheeks, and Leal started to walk towards her without knowing what he was doing. Roderick pulled her through the door as someone grabbed Leal’s arm.
“Come with me, your highness,” said Ethen quietly. “You will do no good for yourself or her if you run after her. I will tell you what has happened and find a way to get you out of here.”
Leal looked at Ethen and nodded, very confused about what was going on. Had something happened to Dracia? Was she ill? Had someone hurt her? He felt panic rise within him as Ethen walked him out of the courtyard, inside the palace, and into an empty parlor. Ethen looked out in the hallway and shut the door. He turned to look at Leal.
“I am going to tell you what has happened, but first, I need your word you will keep yourself under control. Whatever you hear, you cannot go do what you will want to do.”
“Whatever it is you have to tell me, you better tell me quickly because it cannot be worse than I am imagining,” Leal said breathlessly.
“Do I have your word you will keep calm and listen to me until the end?” asked Ethen.
“I can’t promise I will keep calm, but I will listen to you.”
Ethen looked at him for a moment and then nodded his head. “I walked in on Prince Fannar trying to take advantage of the High Captain.”
“What?” asked Leal, feeling shock and anger flow through him. His already unsettled power started to build in his stomach.
“I knew he had some fascination with her. I should have watched her more closely, but I didn’t think he would act in such a way in public. Those Navalians cannot stand waiting.”
“What do you mean he tried to take advantage of her?” asked Leal.
“He found her alone and used his magic on her in some way. I found them before anything could go too far and stopped it. She did well herself, resisting him. Not many people have any power at all against Navalian magic.”
Leal was breathing very fast. He tried to process what he was hearing. Prince Fannar had done something to Dracia. “What did he do to her?”
“He was kissing her when I walked in, though she was trying to push him away. I am not sure what happened before that, but I think that was all.”
“That was all?” asked Leal furiously. “That is more than enough.”
Leal immediately started walking towards the door in the room. He would go find Prince Fannar and take care of this immediately. Ethen caught Leal’s arm and stopped him.
“I told you, you can’t go do what you want to do, not now.”
“Why not?” asked Leal. “He cannot get away with this.”
“No, but there is a time and place for your vengeance, and this is not it. You are focusing on the wrong thing. You need to go to her now and take care of her. She is not well at the moment, and she needs you.”
“I can take care of him first and then see to her,” said Leal furiously. “Trust me, what I have to say and do to him will not take long.”
“No,” said Ethen not letting go of Leal. “If you go to him, he will know how you feel about her, and it will just make him want to take her for himself more. I wouldn’t be surprised if he tried to take her back to Navalia if you let him know how much you love her. He likes taking from others. He might have a hard time taking her, of course, she is a fighter, but his magic is very strong.”
Leal made a noise of frustration. “It will not be a problem. He will not leave my presence alive.”
“Don’t underestimate his power, besides if you do kill him, you will start a war, and then where will your High Captain be? I know this is difficult, but you need to be patient.”
Leal could see his point. He nodded his head. He did not like it, but he did not want to put Dracia in more danger.
“I can help you with Fannar,” said Ethen. “I can see that he leaves Lanoxan for Navalia soon. It is not a permanent solution, but it will give her time and space to deal with other issues your kingdom seems to be having. Right now, we need to find a way to get you out of here and to her side.”
“If I leave early, my father will not be pleased. He will know where I have gone. He might send someone to come find me. I don’t care, but I do worry about what he might do to Dracia. He has threatened her before.”
“Your father would bring harm to the woman you love?” asked Ethen in disbelief.
“I’m not sure if he would follow through. Her father is very powerful, but I will not take the chance with her life.”
Ethen shook his head. “I do not understand how your father can be so cruel to you or her.”
“My father has not been himself the past few years. I do not know what has happened. He acts like a man frightened by something.”
“I will go to my father. I will have him tell the king I have overindulged, and you are seeing to me for the evening. My father will not question me on the reason why, at least not right now. I will tell him later, of course, but you can be assured of his discretion.”
“How did you know about us? How did you know my feelings for Dracia?”
“As I have gotten to know the High Captain, I have noticed a sadness about her. She is always charming and friendly, but there is something about her that is melancholy. I wanted to figure it out. I have watched her, which led to me watching you.”
“Am I so obvious?” asked Prince Leal.
“To me, you are, but I know what it is to love a woman fiercely. I know what signs to look for.”
“Why are you helping me?”
“Because of her. I like good people, and I believe she may be one of the finest women I have ever met. I am a good judge of character, Prince Leal; it is a part of the Siccarian ability. I can see just how good she truly is.”
“So, you also see how much I do not deserve her. That is what you wish to say,” said Prince Leal.
“I wouldn’t say that. I don’t know you. I cannot see you as I see her. I believe your own powers have put up a shield around you to my ability. You would do well to keep it up if you are going to continue to spend your time around the Navalian princess.”
“I need to go,” said Leal.
“It will only take me a moment to speak with my father. Hopefully, your father will not notice you are gone until my father can speak with him.”
Ethen walked to the door and opened it, looking out in the hall. He closed it quickly.
“There is someone out there,” said Ethen looking at Leal.
“Let me see,” said Leal, having a feeling who was waiting for him. He opened the door slightly and looked to see Malven standing close to the wall, holding a bag. Leal opened the door completely and walked out.
“Your highness, I figured you would be leaving immediately. I didn’t think you would want to have to go your rooms.”
“No, I do not. Thank you Malven,” said Leal taking the bag from Malven.
“I will go back to the courtyard,” said Ethen. “Please come find me tomorrow and tell me how she is.”
Leal nodded. “Thank you for your help, Lord Ethen. I believe we will have much to discuss soon.”
“Yes, your highness,” said Ethen as he turned and walked away.
“Do you know what happened, Malven?” asked Leal as Malven walked with him back into the parlor.
“Some of it. I saw the High Captain go behind the wall after your sister, and your sister returned back to the party, but the Captain did not. I then saw Prince Fannar go behind the wall, and, after a time, Lord Ethen did as well. Eventually, Prince Fannar left, and Lord Ethen went to get Roderick Ellis. The High Captain left soon after. I don’t know what happened, but she was very upset. I went to try to alert you, but you had already left the room.”
“I need you to stay here and watch Prince Fannar while I am gone. See who he spends his time with and what he does. If he leaves the palace at any time, find a way to get word to me.” Leal took off his crown and slipped his tunic off, over his head.
“Of course, your highness.”
“I’m not sure how long I will be gone, Malven. It may be quite late in the morning before I come back to the palace. I will not leave her until I know she is well,” said Leal as he pulled on a simple shirt.
“What do you want me to tell the king if he sends for you?”
“Tell him I am indisposed from the festivities. I will speak to him later in the day because no matter what, I will meet with my father soon.”
“Very good, Prince Leal.”
“I have to go,” said Leal as he closed his eyes. He imagined a palace guard and opened them.
Malven nodded to him. “Be safe, your highness.”
Leal slipped out of the room and out the main entrance of the palace. A few palace guards eyed him, but Leal concentrated and held up his hands, causing them to turn the other way. He made his way out of the palace grounds, through the grove of trees, and to the Fortress, changing his glamor quickly.
The Fortress was mostly deserted due to the High Summer Festival, so Leal meet no one on the stairs. He walked down the short hall to Dracia’s door, put his hand on it, opened it, and stepped inside. His glamor came down as he walked into an empty sitting room. The room felt stifling hot. Leal began to sweat immediately as Roderick came out of Dracia’s bedroom, sweaty and disheveled, causing Leal to eye him suspiciously.
“She cannot keep warm, no matter how high the fire is or how many blankets I give her,” said Roderick wiping his forehead.
Leal followed Roderick into Dracia’s bedroom to find her wrapped in blankets up to her chin. A large fire burned in the fireplace though it was a warm night in the middle of summer. Leal sat down on the bed next to her as she stuck a hand out of her blankets towards him. He took it, feeling her icy cold touch.
He leaned down and kissed her hand, feeling how very cold it was. He rubbed it for a moment, trying to warm it, but it would not heat up.
“You shouldn’t be here,” said Dracia, shaking as she talked. “The Festival must still be going on. Your father will wonder where you have gone.”
“Lord Ethen is covering for me; there is nowhere else I could possibly be, my love.” Leal held her hand and turned to Roderick. “You can go, Roderick. I will see to her.”
“I’d rather not leave her like this,” said Roderick standing at the foot of Dracia’s bed.
“I will keep her safe and help her. You should go and keep watch. I have someone watching Prince Fannar, but I would feel better knowing someone was watching the Fortress as well.”
“Go, Roderick, I will be fine.” Reassured Dracia. “I am just very cold and tired. You need a break from all this heat as well.”
“You will come to get me if anything changes or if she needs me, won’t you?” asked Roderick looking at Leal.
“Yes, I will find a way to come get you if you are needed. Come back here if you see anything.”
Roderick looked like he did not want to leave, but he bowed slightly and walked from the room. Leal heard the door to the hallway open and shut. He turned his head and looked down at Dracia. He could see her hair was damp as though she had bathed, and her eyes looked tired. He reached out and touched her cheek. It felt impossibly cold.
“Can you talk about it?” asked Leal, continuing to rub her hand.
Dracia gave a small shrug and closed her eyes for a moment. “I don’t know what came over me. I wanted to fight back. I did not want to be alone with him. I did not plan anything to make it so I would be alone with him. I want you to know it.”
“I know, dearest, do not worry about it,” said Leal.
“I was talking with your sister. After she left, I tried to leave myself, but he came up and wouldn’t let me. I wanted to get past him, but I couldn’t. I wanted to force him to let me pass, but I could not work up the strength. I felt like I was trapped. I felt so weak.”
“It was his Navalian magic. Navalians are very powerful. Lilith can even control life and death. Fannar used his magic to subdue you and have power over you. This is not your fault; you do know it, don’t you?”
Dracia nodded as tears fell from her eyes. “I just felt so weak and powerless and wrong. He kissed me. I have never been kissed by anyone but you, not in that way. It felt awful.”
Leal took a deep breath, keeping himself under control.
“I know it was only a small kiss on my cheek and one on my lips, but it felt so awful and strange. Now I feel as though I can’t get warm.”
Leal stroked her cheek, noticing again how very cold it was. It almost felt icy. He concentrated for a moment and could feel the same insidious magic he felt when he kissed her hand earlier in the night. e thought about how he was able to draw out the strange magic in her hand in the courtyard. He looked closely at her cheek and felt his power rise within him, wanting to be rid of what lay under her skin.
“Dracia, can I try something? I don’t want to alarm you. I know how you must feel about being touched or kissed at the moment, but I will not harm you.”
“I trust you,” she said quietly. “I never mind being kissed or touched by you. If you think you can do anything to help with this chill, please do so.”
Leal nodded and bent down slowly. He looked at her, and she had her eyes on him. He slowly kissed her gently on her cheek. His felt his power run to the spot. He felt the sensation of something being drawn out of her skin. It rushed to his own lips, his power immediately surrounding and destroying it. He leaned up and let out a breath that in the warm air of the room, he could see.
She let out a gentle sigh as Leal touched her cheek again. He could feel it was already much warmer to my touch.
“Are you well, my love?” he asked, looking down at her as he stroked her cheek.
She nodded as she pulled her blanket down slightly. “Kiss me,” she said, tilting her head up.
He leaned down and softly kissed her lips, feeling more of the Navalian magic being drawn out of her. She gave a content sigh against his lips, and he pulled back.
“Thank you, whatever you did helped.” She sat up a little, letting the covers fall to her waist to reveal she was wearing a heavy nightgown and her locket. Leal reached over and held the locket in his hand, smiling at her.
“I could not wear it tonight, but I put it on after I got back. It sounds silly, but I felt safer wearing it, like you were here with me.” Dracia put her hand on his as he held the locket.
“It does not sound silly. I wish you would never take it off. I don’t care who sees you wearing it,” said Leal as he squeezed the locket before letting it go.
Dracia closed her eyes and held out her hand as the fire in the fireplace burned down low. “Will you stay with me tonight?”
“I don’t think anything could make me leave this room,” he said as she scooted over in the bed.
He took off his boots and lay down next to her as she moved close to him. He put his arms around her, and she laid against his chest.
“If you get too hot, you can leave. I know it must be unbearably warm in here,” yawned Dracia.
“It actually feels fine,” said Leal truthfully. He found himself a little chilly after all his contact with the Navalian magic. “I’m going to go speak with my father tomorrow. I want him to know what Prince Fannar has done, and I want him to know I will not be marrying Princess Lilith. I hope he will ask them to leave.”
“You must not be disappointed when he does not. They are a powerful kingdom, and it was only a kiss. We have enough enemies pressing down on us as it is.”
“I won’t let Fannar treat you this way and get away with it,” said Leal.
“I can come to meet the king with you,” said Dracia.
“No, I don’t want you anywhere near the palace at the moment. I know you are strong, but I will feel better if Fannar does not have any opportunities to be near you. I hate that I can’t stay with you.”
“I will ride out in the hills tomorrow with Roderick. I need to give Aarit some exercise. The novices won’t meet until after lunch, so I can ride out in the morning and be back in time to oversee Disciplines.”
Leal kissed the top of her head satisfied that she agreed to stay away from the palace tomorrow. “Please go to sleep, my love. I know you must be tired.”
She burrowed into him as he tightened his hold on her. He could tell she quickly fell asleep as he felt her even, gentle breaths against his chest. He did not find much sleep that night. He lay in the bed and held Dracia, feeling his power swirl within him. He thought of Fannar kissing her, and he burned with anger. The only thing that kept him from walking straight to the palace and facing Fannar was the fact he was holding the woman he loved.
As his eyes finally grew heavy in the middle of the night, he held Dracia tighter, feeling his power cover them both. He whispered in his family’s ancient tongue. “I will keep you safe.”
Before he fell sleep, he heard Dracia respond in a whisper, “I rest easy with you.”