Dracia sat on the small sofa in her sitting room with Leal by her side while Lord Ethen sat on the edge of a nearby chair as Leal went over again all he had learned about the king. It was very odd, Leal’s father trusting the kingdom and its future to a foreteller and some oracle. Dracia knew the king had changed in ways in the last few years, but she would never have guessed it would come to this.
“Do you believe this curse your father talks of could be real?” asked Lord Ethen.
Leal shrugged. “Even if it is, it is like one big riddle. It could drive one mad just trying to figure it out. It has led to nothing but heartache for me since my father has started trying to do what he believes it says.”
“Maybe that is the point of it,” said Dracia. “The curse isn’t some magic spell; it’s the threat of it that would drive one insane. Look at all your father has done and brought to his door because he was obsessed with this curse.”
“And what of this oracle he speaks of? Do you know who she is?” asked Ethen, looking at Leal.
“I don’t have a clue. He says she first came when my mother was very ill a few years ago. It was a hard time for my family, and I don’t remember much of what was happening. She had been ill for years, but during that time, it seemed as if it really was the end. Healers and apothecaries came from all over. I could have seen this oracle and not known who she really was.”
“The king has said he has seen her over the years,” said Ethen, furrowing his brow. “Have you not noticed her at any point?”
Dracia and Leal exchanged glances. “Ever since the queen has left for the summer palace, the king has had more than a few female visitors,” said Dracia as Leal looked down.
“Ah,” said Ethen. “So, she could have just been seen as another special guest of the king who stayed for a night or so.”
Leal nodded. “I should have known before now how far gone my father was. I definitely never should have let him dictate my life in any way,” said Leal as he turned to Dracia. “I am so sorry, my love. I should have demanded you lived as my wife years ago. I should have left the palace if I had to.”
“No, you needed to stay where you were. You couldn’t break away from your father because the kingdom needs you.”
“She is right, your highness,” said Lord Ethen as he ran his hand over his beard. “You are the future of Lanoxan, and that future may be much nearer than you originally thought.”
“I don’t want it to come to bloodshed,” said Leal sighing. “I would like to find a way to convince my father he needs to step down, especially if he will not see the error of his ways.”
“You will need the support of the lords of your kingdom,” said Lord Ethen. “Especially the high lords of your court, though the lower lords will be useful as well. You will also need allies. I believe I can gain the support of all the Siccarian nobles if you don’t align yourself with Navalia in any way.”
“I have no desire to have any connection to Navalia,” said Leal vehemently. “I wish they were gone from our kingdom at this moment.”
“I do as well, but we must deal with threats as they come,” said Dracia. “We have several forces stationed on the edges of our kingdom. Some are starting to move slowly inwards. I would go out and meet them, but there are too many scattered. If I took a group of Elites and sent out another, it would leave Winsdell vulnerable.
“I have a few scouts out now who are very good at stealth. They will alert us if any enemy forces get close to Winsdell. All we can do now is wait. I will need the support of your palace guards when the time comes, Leal. I should probably meet with their captain soon.”
“Yes, deal with the current threat and then you can start working on saving your kingdom from your father,” said Lord Ethen.
“Will you and your family be leaving, Lord Ethen?” asked Dracia. “With the threat on our doorsteps, it might be better if you retreated back to Siccaria.”
“We have no plans to leave you in your time of need, Captain. I for sure will not leave until I see this threat has passed. My father and especially my grandmother are in agreement, and we are the heads of the Siccarian nobles. We will stand by Lanoxan during this time.”
Dracia smiled. “I appreciate your support for our kingdom, my lord.”
“You could just dispense with this my lord business, Captain. I am fine with you referring to me as just Ethen.”
“Does that mean you will refer to me as Dracia?”
“Perhaps I will, eventually, though I rather like calling you Captain. I think it suits you.”
Dracia laughed as a knock sounded at her door. She looked at Ethen and Leal and then stood up, walking to answer it. She opened it slightly, seeing who was there before throwing it open to allow Roderick to enter. He came into the room and bowed before turning to Dracia.
“You have been summoned by the king. He wants to meet with you immediately.”
“Did he happened to say why he would like to see me?” asked Dracia.
“No, he only sent a message, saying you are to go now, alone,” replied Roderick with a frown.
She turned to Leal and Ethen. “It seems our meeting is over. I would appreciate you both walking with me to the palace if you are heading that way.”
Ethen and Leal stood as Dracia grabbed her cape, throwing it around her shoulders and fastening it. She grabbed her scabbard that held her sword and attached it to her belt.
“See that the Disciplines continue to run smoothly today, Roderick. I will be back as soon as I can,” said Dracia as she walked towards the door.
They walked through the Fortress, Dracia feeling strange having Leal by her side without him having to hide. Since Lord Ethen was accompanying them, it would not appear out of place for Dracia to be meeting with the Crown Prince. She hoped soon they wouldn’t have to sneak around to be together anymore. She liked being able to look over and see Leal smile at her when she felt uneasy.
She did feel uneasy about going to meet with the king. He rarely called for her as they usually meet during a short scheduled meeting each month. She worried that perhaps he knew she had spied on him as he met with the foreteller, or maybe more people had been talking about her and Leal. They had not been as careful lately in hiding their feelings. Whatever he wanted to meet with her about, Dracia knew it could not be good.
They exited the Fortress and walked through the small forest towards the castle, Dracia running a thousand different possible reasons for this meeting through her mind.
“I hope you know, you will not be in this meeting alone, Dracia,” said Leal.
“Your father has commanded I come alone. I am not allowed to ignore an order of a meeting from my king,” said Dracia with a sigh.
“You are not asking me to come; I will come on my own accord. If he does not want me there, he can have me thrown out. I think I might like to see him try. I will not leave you alone with him, not after all I have learned of his actions lately.”
“Let him go with you, Captain,” said Ethen looking at Dracia. “If things stay as they are, you will need to start showing support for the prince in his effort to gain the throne. He will need the Sentinel.”
Dracia nodded. “I need you not to lose control in this meeting, Leal. I am the High Captain of the Sentinel, and I am strong. Whatever your father has to say to me, I will listen and respond with my own decisions.”
“I will try, but if he threatens you in any way, I am not sure I can let it go. I know you can handle yourself, Dracia, but you must know I could not let something like that pass with no response.”
“We should not jump to any conclusions as we don’t know what your father may want. Let us hear what he has to say, and go from there,” said Dracia with more confidence than she felt.
They walked to the palace, where Ethen left them in the entryway to go to his rooms up the stairs. Leal and Dracia turned down the hallway to visit the king’s study. Leal looked at the one guard stationed there as he knocked on the door.
“It is the High Captain, your majesty,” said Dracia after Leal knocked.
“Enter,” said the king from behind the door.
Dracia looked at Leal, who gave her a small smile before he opened the door. Dracia walked in with Leal behind her to find the king standing behind the desk. His neutral expression turned into a deep frown as he saw Leal come into the room behind Dracia.
“This is a private meeting between the High Captain and me, Prince Leal,” said the king sternly. “You will need to leave. If you have something to meet with me about, you can come back at another time. You should go find the Navalian Princess and spend time with her. I know you have been neglecting your duty towards her lately.”
“I have no obligations to spend any time with Princess Lilith. I will continue to avoid her every moment from this point forward until she leaves for her own kingdom,” said Leal. “I will also be attending this meeting with the High Captain.”
“What reason do you have for being here?” asked the king, sounding irritated.
“I am the Crown Prince, and I should know of the business of the kingdom. Whatever you have to say to her must be of value to me as the future king.” He turned and looked at Dracia. “More importantly, this is the woman I love, and who I will spend my life with. I will be by her side every moment I can, especially when she needs my support.”
The king huffed angrily and glared at both of them, but he said nothing as he sat down.
“Have a seat, Captain,” said the king seeming to ignore his son.
Dracia sat down on the edge of a chair in front of the large desk as Leal sat next to her.
“I have summoned you here to tell you I think it is best if you step down as High Captain,” said the king.
Dracia looked over at Leal, trying to keep her facial expression neutral. She looked back at the king and asked, “May I ask why you feel that way, your majesty? Have I displeased you in some way in my duties?”
The king studied her for a moment. “I do believe you have been distracted by complications in your life.” The king glanced at Leal before focusing his eyes on Dracia. “But no, this is not due to any censure I have for you, but I have long thought perhaps you weren’t the best person for the position.”
“You didn’t feel that way when I was offered the position by the previous High Captain, so something must have changed for you to have a different opinion now.”
“I understand you have been invited to go to Siccaria by the High Nobles. I believe they would like you to stay for some time,” said the king. “I think for the sake of Lanoxan, it would be best if you accepted their invitation.”
“The Siccarians have not offered me an invitation personally. I believe they understand my duties, and my loyalties lie here in Lanoxan. There are many here I do not feel I could leave behind.”
“Including my son, whom I have commanded you to leave alone,” said the king loudly.
“Yes, especially your son. I will not leave him, and I will not deny my love for him. You can command me all you want in Sentinel business, but my personal life and my heart are my own.”
Leal reached over and took her hand. He brought it to his lips and kissed it.
“I command you to leave your post as High Captain,” shouted the king. “You will do so immediately.”
“You cannot command it, your majesty,” said Dracia calmly. “I was chosen by the previous High Captain. I have the support of my Elites, and we all follow the way of the Sentinel. I cannot be displaced. I can only give up the title of my own will or by my death.”
The king opened his mouth, but Leal cut him off. “I would think very carefully about your next words, father because if they are a threat to Dracia in any way, they could very well be your last.”
“What if I command you as the High Captain to visit Siccaria? You could see the High Nobles back safely and then stay to improve our relations with their kingdom.”
“You can recommend it, but I would not have to heed your command if I felt it was not in the best interest of the kingdom, which it is not,” said Dracia forcefully.
“What good am I as your king if you will not do as I say?” asked the king.
“The royal family of Cassendar has always placed an enormous amount of trust in the High Captain and the Sentinel, and for a good reason. We have served well for over two thousand years. I do not plan to do anything to change that course. I will see to the safety of the kingdom, Winsdell, and most importantly, your family, as I have sworn to do, your majesty.
“To have a change in leadership now would be madness. I just went out into the kingdom to save three of my Elites from a group of traitors who retired from the Sentinel. These traitors said they had aligned themselves with others against you. You must know there is talk of uprisings in the kingdom and enemy soldiers all along our borders. They could strike at any time,” said Dracia.
“Father, I would like to speak to you of these uprisings. The Captain has been told that our people are suffering from sickness and famine, and that you have ignored their cries. Is this true?” asked Leal.
“Things are complicated, Leal,” said the king. “I know there are troubles in the kingdom, and it might seem as if I have ignored them, but I have been doing the most important thing I can do to make sure our kingdom and family are safe in the future. I have told you, I must break this curse that is over us. If you would just do as you were told, all would be well.”
Leal shook his head. “So, you have been ignoring our people and their problems. Father, you must see how you have gone too far. You must see how you are not acting as a king should. You must drop this silly notion of a curse and see to the real problems facing us, starting with the enemy soldiers on our doorstep.”
“You could save us all, Leal.” The king stood up. “Get away from whatever it is you think you have with this woman, and go towards our kingdom’s future. I know you think you cannot do without her, but it is nonsense.
“Look at her, Leal, she is beautiful, but there are many in the kingdom and beyond who are just as beautiful or more so, including Princess Lilith. There are hundreds of women just like her all over our land. You will move past this infatuation, and do what you need to do for the kingdom.”
Leal stood up suddenly and faced his father. Dracia saw his eyes were bright green and his breathing was rapid. She reached up and took his hand before standing up. She pulled him close to her as she intertwined their fingers. Leal looked down at their conjoined hands before looking at Dracia with his normal hazel eyes. He smiled before looking at his father.
“I will not stay here and listen to you talk such nonsense and ridicule the very real love Dracia and I share. I should take her from this room and run far away from you and Winsdell, where I know she will be safe, but I know her.
“She will not leave this kingdom, your kingdom, in peril. She will stand strong as the High Captain of your Sentinel and fight for Winsdell, for our kingdom, and even you. She will do all of this, but she will not have to sit here and listen to you belittle who she is.”
“I will return to the Sentinel and keep training my novices,” said Dracia looking at the king as she let go of Lela’s hand. “When the forces come to our door, the Sentinel will stand strong, and I will lead them. I will let you know of further developments.”
Dracia turned and walked from the room with Leal behind her. She stood in the hallway as Leal closed the door, seeing the king leaning over his desk with his head down.
They walked together down the hall to the front door of the palace.
“I need to get back to the Fortress to oversee the Disciplines. With what is coming, I will need the novices as ready as they can be to fight. I hate to throw them into anything so early, but I don’t know if we can avoid it.”
“I will walk you back at least part of the way,” said Leal. “I like to stay away from the palace as much as I can.”
Dracia nodded as they both walked out the front door. They stayed silent until they entered the trees separating the palace from the Fortress.
“I suppose my father is not going to change from this ridiculous course he has set for himself.”
“No, he seems very sure of his decisions, though they make little sense to me.”
“And to be ignoring our people, Dracia? I had no idea things were so bad in the kingdom. I need to be more active in the ruling of Lanoxan. I have tried before, but my father always dictated what work I would focus on. No wonder there are uprisings in the kingdom.”
“There are problems in the kingdom, there always are, and there are some things that need to change, but I don’t believe any uprisings are coming from the people of the kingdom, at least not the common folk. I have been out in the kingdom; I would have seen it. I believe whatever is happening is coming from some of the lords of the kingdom, outside influences, or maybe both,” said Dracia as they walked.
“Why, though? I don’t think my father has done anything to upset his court. Things seem to be going on as they have for ages.”
“I am not sure,” said Dracia. “Whoever it is has contacted my father, but they have given him no further information. I hope my father will let me know if they contact him again.”
“Do you think your father would join an uprising against my family?” asked Leal stopping by the small pond.
“He said he wouldn’t.”
She had thought on the question Leal had just asked many times. She would like to believe her father wouldn’t, but when it came down to it, she really didn’t know. She loved her father, and she knew he loved her, but she knew there were many things she didn’t know about him. He always seemed in many ways a mystery to her. He was kind to her, and besides ignoring her mother’s cruelty at times, he saw to Dracia’s every comfort growing up, but she had long thought he was hiding many secrets.
“I could not tell you confidently he would not. There are many things I don’t know about him,” admitted Dracia.
“I don’t even know where to start with all of this,” said Leal, running his hand through his hair.
“We start with what we can control, and what we can control is how well we meet the threat we know is coming,” said Dracia with conviction. “I need to make sure the Elites are prepared. I wish our numbers were up to full strength, but we are left with forty-five novices at this point, and all of them are at least proficient.”
“You are right,” said Leal. “Let me help you, Dracia. I can at least meet with the palace guards for you, make sure they are aware of the situation.”
“I would offer to fight with you, but I believe I already know your answer.”
“It is not that I don’t think you could help in a fight; I hope you know that. It is the fact that you need to stay safe. I also need you to protect the palace and the village as I ride out.”
He turned to her and took her hand, bringing her close. “I understand what you are saying, but I am not sure how I will stand being so close to you and doing nothing as you are in danger.”
“You will have to control yourself, though I know it is difficult for you.”. She was reminded of the conversation she had with Ethen and Roderick on their way to face the traitors. “Leal, have you ever tried to use your powers on command? Have you ever tried to work on controlling them and getting them to do what you want?”
“I’ve tried to work on controlling them, so they don’t manifest in ways that cause unwanted consequences. I think I am able to shield myself from others, but that is mostly unconsciously. I’ve never tried to see if I could get them to obey me beyond pushing them back down,” replied Leal.
“Maybe you should find a way to train with them in the future, and perhaps Lexine could as well. Roderick believes your family may have been given your power, in the beginning, to see to the safety and defense of the kingdom.”
“That I an interesting theory and sounds very plausible. I suppose I could spend time trying to train with them. It will be a change though. I have gotten so used to keeping them within myself.”
“After we get past the current threat, maybe I could help you.” She took his hand.
“Maybe you could,” said Leal bringing her hand to his lips. “You do help me feel calmer at times. Of course other, I find you make it very hard to control many emotions that run through me. Leal brought her close to him and kissed her.
“I should go,” said Dracia as she pulled back. “Will I see you tonight?”
Leal kissed her again. “Yes, I don’t plan to be away from you another night if I can help it.”
“Good, I’m done with us being apart. I don’t believe there is anything in the kingdom or beyond that can keep me away from you.”