Roderick looked out over towards the novices who were sparring on the left side of the field. He could see Galen waiting his turn, observing two different pairs of sparring partners. He wondered how Galen could watch each pair simultaneously and actually be able to gain any helpful information. He may have wondered how, but Roderick knew Galen could do it. Galen constantly did things that amazed him.
“The novices we have left seem to be doing well sparring today,” said Dracia, who was standing up slightly on Aarit to get a good look over the novices who were training with swords.
“They are definitely getting better,” said Roderick. “We have just under thirty left, and we seemed to have weeded out those who lacked skills in certain areas.”
Dracia nodded. “I think we have a good group left at the moment. Of course, more than half if not more will never become Elites, whether by our choice or theirs, but I am hopeful of the number and quality we will eventually find.”
“I agree. I am sure you will have a few who will be ready within the year.”
“There are at least one or two who are ready now, but I would like to give them the full year to decide their fate, especially your brother.”
“You think Galen is ready now?” asked Roderick.
“In skills, temperament, and loyalty, I do. He is everything we could use in an Elite, especially his growing healing ability, but I do not want to rush him if I can help it. Galen has more than a few opportunities in front of him. I want to make sure he is happy with the choices he makes.”
“He has wanted to be an Elite for so long, I can’t imagine him not following through after the Disciplines.” Roderick watched Galen start to spar with Tomas.
“I believe his time in the Academy and here has changed him. I am not saying he won’t be an Elite, but he has made new friendships, strong friendships lately.”
Roderick turned to the High Captain. “You are talking of the Princess Lexine, aren’t you?”
Dracia gave a small shrug. “They have grown close; you must have seen it.”
“I have and so has my mother. She noticed them together at the High Summer festival. He has even mentioned her in letters to my mother. You don’t think there is more there than friendship, do you?”
The High Captain was silent as she continued to watch the novices.
“Dracia,” said Roderick quietly. “Do you know something of my brother and the princess?”
Dracia looked at him as Roderick smiled at her.
“I am not privy to your brother’s thoughts, Roderick,” said Dracia rolling her eyes. “I cannot and will not tell you of anything the princess may or may not have shared with me about Galen.”
“So, she has spoken of him to you,” said Roderick continuing to smile at Dracia.
“I think you should have a chat with your brother if you want to know what is going on with the princess. That is all I will say on the matter.”
Roderick nodded and let the subject drop.
“There are other important things we should be discussing at the moment,” said Dracia. “I am sure we will hear news very soon of when we can expect our unwelcomed visitors. It will be a large force, and though I want to avoid it, I am afraid we will have to have our novices ready to fight.”
“You think that is wise?”
“I will put them on the back lines and tell them to stay there, but we will need the numbers. Even with the full Sentinel available and the palace guards, we will be low on fighters compared to the force we could be facing. We might need our novices to shore up our lines close to the village.”
“You are worried about this attack,” observed Roderick.
“I would be a fool not to worry,” said Dracia. “We don’t know the exact numbers coming, and we don’t know who we are really fighting. They may all be dressed as Gedonial soldiers, but I don’t believe for one second it is only Gedonia we are facing.”
“Any ideas on why they are attacking Winsdell? Wouldn’t it be smarter to attack out in the kingdom and draw us out?”
“They must think they have the numbers to face us. They probably know our membership is down in the Sentinel and that we are training a large number of novices. I am sure they doubt my leadership as a woman as well. I don’t mind it though, let them underestimate me. I have won many battles due to men underestimating what I could do.”
“Anyone would be a fool to think you are not a capable leader of the Sentinel. Surely people have heard of your bravery and skills by now. What you did at Cadmial should become a thing of legend.”
“People believe what they want to believe. Haven’t you learned that by now? None of us are rational creatures, even if we want to believe we are. Many people, men especially, will not want to believe I can successfully lead the Sentinel, so they will do and say what they can to discredit me. Like I said, let them do it. It is only to our advantage.”
“I definitely do not underestimate you, Captain. You have amazed me time and time again with your intelligence, skills, and bravery,” said Roderick.
“You don’t have to flatter me, Roderick. I do not require it of you as my second.”
“I am only telling the truth,” said Roderick. “I want you to hear who you really are sometimes, so you will believe it yourself.”
Dracia smiled slightly. “Don’t worry, I know who I am, and I know what I am capable of. I may be worried about the coming battle, but I have no doubt we will be victorious. I simply will not let us be defeated. I will do whatever it takes for us to keep our village, our kingdom, and our royal family safe.”
“I believe you, Captain.” He saw Dracia smile at someone in the distance.
Roderick looked up to see Lord Ethen walking up to them from across the field. Dracia hopped down off of Aarit, giving Lord Ethen a small wave. Roderick dismounted his horse and walked with her to meet Lord Ethen as he walked towards them.
“Good afternoon, my lord,” said Dracia with a small curtsey.
“What did I tell you of this, my lord, business, Captain?” said Lord Ethen with a smile. He looked at Roderick. “Good day to you as well, Roderick.”
“What brings you to the Fortress today, Ethen?” asked Dracia.
“Boredom, mostly, and the desire for your company. I have also been wanting to see some of the Disciplines. I hope you don’t mind me walking over.”
“Not at all; come walk with us over to the upper left side. You can see our novices are sparring as we speak. You can go observe with us.” Dracia walked to stand at Lord Ethen’s side.
They all three starting walking towards the novices who were training, as Dracia turned to address Lord Ethen. “Did the Crown Prince not feel like a visit with you today?”
“I have not seen him since this morning. I think he is hiding somewhere in the palace or beyond to avoid some of the guests.”
“I imagine Princess Lilith is rather cross with the prince at the moment,” said Dracia casually. “I should probably go to the palace soon and check-in with her. I am supposed to be seeing to her security.”
“I’d rather you stay as far as you can from all the Navalians and especially the princess. As I have said before, she does not need protection,” said Lord Ethen.
“I will be glad when they go back to Navalia, though they don’t seem in a hurry to leave,” said Dracia shaking her head.
“No, they said they have not gotten what they have come for.” Lord Ethen let out a frustrated sigh.
Roderick wondered how long the Navalians would stay before they realized their cause was hopeless. No matter how much the king might wish for Prince Leal to marry Princess Lilith, Roderick knew it would never happen. It could never happen. It was impossible.
“They will have to leave at some point,” said Dracia.
“My grandmother might like a visit from you, Captain,” said Lord Ethen as they approached the novices. “She asks me about you often.”
“I will have to find a time to speak with her. I do not know her well, but from the times I have spoken with her, I think I like your grandmother very much.”
Lord Ethen smiled and then turned his attention to the novices in front of him. They were all in different groups, taking turns sparring. Roderick looked over to see his brother sparring with Novice Cara. He could see she was very skilled, but Galen was holding his own. As he watched, Galen was able to disarm Cara after a hard fight. The woman laughed a little as Galen handed her back her sword.
What happened next was so fast, Roderick wasn’t sure he could ever figure out what really happened. There was a large rack to the front of all the novices. It was heavy and wooden. Many different rough sparring swords hung from it as well as several different-sized knives. It was usually secured by large ropes that led to stakes in the ground to keep it stable when in use.
The wind was swirling around them as dark clouds were coming in. Roderick could smell the scent of a storm brewing. He knew by dinner it would probably be raining heavily. As the clouds continued to gather, the wind gusted. A strong gust blew through to the back of the rack. It made a loud groaning noise, and Roderick turned to look at it. He could see the ropes that usually secured it were flapping freely behind it.
As he watched the rack, he saw that it was starting to tip over towards several novices who were sparring in front of it, oblivious to the danger that was about to come upon them. Roderick cried out and threw his hands up, hoping his warning cry would be enough because any Mystic he could use would be too late. He blinked and the High Captain was in front of the rack. He turned quickly to Lord Ethen, who was still close to his side. How had Dracia moved to the rack so quickly?
She threw out her hands, sending a fierce wind at the rack, causing it to tip backwards away from the novices. It made a loud noise as the wood hit the ground, and metal hit metal as the swords fell. All the novices who hadn’t realized what was happening had now stopped and stared towards the fallen rack.
“Where is Elite Darron?” asked Dracia in a commanding voice. “Has he not been observing you?” She turned to the three other Elites who were close by helping with the session. “Where is he?”
One Elite came forward. “He saw someone out in tree line over there and said he had to speak with them for a second,” said the Elite. “He has been gone about ten minutes.”
“Has he?” asked Dracia furiously. She looked at the novices. “Help the Elites clean this up, and then get to the Fortress. It will storm soon, and you all need to be inside.”
She turned and walked quickly towards the tree line in the near distance. Roderick and Lord Ethen looked at each other before following her, jogging slightly to catch up. They all three walked together, Roderick surveying the tree line looking for movement. He stopped when he saw Darron standing by two women, one who was holding the reins of a horse.
“Why is he talking to her? asked Dracia with huff as she increased her pace.
Roderick looked and could see that the woman holding the reins was Princess Lilith. As he watched, Darron gave her a boost up on her horse as the other woman walked away in the trees. Lilith gave a long look towards Dracia and turned her horse towards the trees and rode off. Darron paused for a second before walking forward to meet the High Captain.
“What is going on here?” she asked as she met Darron, standing in front of him. Ethen and Roderick stood at her back.
“Nothing, particularly interesting. I saw the princess riding along the far side of our field, so I stepped out to say hello,” said Darron nonchalantly.
“You were leading a session,” said Dracia with irritation. “You had no right to go out and make a social call.”
“It wasn’t a social call,” sneered Darron. “I saw her on our lands and thought someone should go out and greet her. It should have been the High Captain, but she didn’t seem very keen on visiting with you.”
“Did you realize the rack wasn’t properly stabilized for the session? It almost fell over and hit several novices. It could have severely hurt or killed them. What do you have to say about it?”
“I asked the other Elites helping me to make sure it was secure. They should have seen to it.”
“You were in charge of the session and are a leader to the Sentinel as my second. You should make sure everything is done correctly in the session I asked you to lead,” said Dracia.
“Was anyone hurt?” asked Darron.
“No, I took care of it,” said Dracia.
“Then what is the issue, Captain?”
“The issue is you have been nothing but rude and neglectful of your duties lately. I am very close to censuring you and asking you to step down as my second.”
“For one mistake?” asked Darron.
“For two mistakes, you forget the injured novice. I have also noticed your rudeness towards at least one of our novices. You will shape up quickly, or I will see you not only removed as my second but out of the Sentinel as well.”
“Is that all, Captain?” asked Darron. “It seems to rain in a moment, and I would like to get inside.”
“That is all for now, but I will be watching you very closely,” warned Dracia.
“Yes, Captain,” said Darron as he walked by Dracia and towards the Fortress.
“There is only one way to describe that man, and I would not do so in front of a lady,” said Lord Ethen as he watched Darron go.
“You can say it if you like Ethen, I am probably thinking it as well,” said Dracia. “I was so stupid to ever think he would make a good second.”
“He did fine for a while,” said Roderick. “He was rude and a little lazy, but he did mostly as you asked. Something has changed lately.”
“Something else for me to deal with after we take care of the upcoming battle.” Dracia turned towards the Fortress. “Come on, we need to get in the Fortress before the storm hits. Will you walk back to the palace, or will you join us for dinner tonight, Ethen?”
“I will join you if you don’t mind, Captain. I would not like to get caught in what is brewing if I can help it.”
They all three walked quickly back to the Fortress, just beating the first few drops of rain that fell as they entered the north entrance. Dracia and Roderick walked Lord Ethen around the first floor of the Fortress showing him all the rooms he hadn’t seen, including the few common rooms used by the Elites who lived there, the west hall used for training indoors, and the library of the Sentinel. Roderick noticed Dracia continually looking over her shoulder, but when he turned, he saw nothing but groups of Elites moving around them.
They turned to cross the north entryway to go to the west side of the building to eat dinner in the hall when the doorway open forcefully to admit two soaked Elites. Dracia turned and met the Elites in the middle of the entry hall.
“You have returned,” said Dracia. “Do you have news?”
“Yes, Captain,” said one of the Elites as he pushed his wet hair away from his face. “We have seen several forces moving this way, from the west. Once we noticed this, we rode around and took a soldier and questioned him. He said they were told to start moving towards Winsdell to meet outside the hills in one week.”
“How long ago was this?” asked Dracia.
“Two days, Captain,” said the other man. “We rode here as soon as we disposed of the soldier.”
“So, we have five days to prepare,” said Dracia. “Very well, Elites, go get dried off and come get a good meal for dinner. I will send out riders for our other lookouts tomorrow. I want to speak with you first thing in the morning to talk about what numbers you saw.”
The Elites bowed and left the room.
“Five days,” said Lord Ethen coming to stand next to Dracia. “That isn’t much time.”
“It will be enough,” said Dracia. “Much more than we would have had without our scouts. I will start preparing tonight if both of you would come to my room after dinner.”
Of course,” said Lord Ethen. “Would you like me to send for Prince Leal? I am sure he will want to be involved in our planning.”
“That won’t be necessary.” Dracia looked over Lord Ethen’s shoulder and motioned for someone to join them. Roderick watched as an Elite walked over to them. At first, Roderick couldn’t place him, but then he realized who it was.
“Was I so obvious?”
“No more than usual, my prince,” said Dracia quietly. “Come on, let’s go eat a quick dinner and then we will get to my rooms and figure all this out.”