The early morning sun shining through the window of Dracia’s room caused Leal to wake up for his sound sleep. His eyes blinked open against the new light in the room as he stretched. He turned his head to find Dracia still asleep at his side. He smiled, looking at her peaceful face and listening to the soft sounds of her breathing. He rolled towards her and gently draped his arm around her waist, pulling her closer to him.
Leal kissed her bare shoulder as she sighed and started to stir. Dracia moved as if to turn or sit up, but Leal tightened his arm around her. She turned her head to look at him, her eyes fluttering open.
“What time do you think it is?” asked Dracia.
“Probably not even the sixth bell of morning,” replied Leal. “Still a few hours to breakfast.”
“I need to get out of bed, and you need to get back to the palace.” Dracia put her hand on Leal’s arm.
“I should,” said Leal as he kissed Dracia’s neck. “But I am finding it impossible to leave you at the moment.”
“You will not be gone from me long,” said Dracia as she moved her head to give him better access to her neck. “I have to meet with your father this morning, and I am sure you will want to be there.”
“I will,” he said between kisses. “But my father is not an early riser. He will not take a meeting with you until at least the tenth bell, so there is no rush.”
“I have my morning routine I do before breakfast, and I will have to meet with the Upper Elites today to talk about the novices and their place in the battle,” said Dracia.
“I am sure I can convince you to skip your morning routine before breakfast,” said Leal as he continued to kiss her.
“I am sure you can, as well as make me late for breakfast.” Dracia laughed. “but it is not wise. I shouldn’t even give you the chance.”
“You definitely shouldn’t.” Leal rolled her over to face him. “If you do give me the chance, I might not let you leave this bed until lunch.”
She leaned forward and kissed him in a way that showed she was very much in the mood to give Leal more than a chance.
They did make it out of bed before breakfast, but Leal was later getting back to the palace than usual. He went in through the front door, not really caring who saw him walking the halls to his bedroom. He dressed in the clothes Malven had set out for him before eating a breakfast brought to his room.
Lately, Leal had become used to sleeping with Dracia every night, sleeping more soundly than he had in a long time. He found it harder and harder to leave her each morning, and this morning had been particularly tough after learning that Winsdell would be under attack in less than five days. It seemed like she had been in danger more often in the last few months. It made Leal more than ever want to bring her to the palace as his wife, where she would have to give up her position at the Sentinel.
He wondered how she would handle no longer being the High Captain or even an Elite. He knew it was an important part of her, and he did not want to make her unhappy. She had assured him, she would pick him over everything else. While she did enjoy serving the kingdom, she would not miss some of the grimmer aspects of serving as an Elite of the Sentinel.
He would give her freedom to find her new purpose. She would eventually serve as his queen, and he would depend on her for many things, including her wisdom in keeping the kingdom safe. He would help her find a way to feel useful and be happy. While he would prefer she was safe in the palace and not out in the kingdom fighting opposing forces, he would be very satisfied to let her be involved in the strategy of keeping the kingdom safe.
Leal walked out of his rooms, hoping to find Lord Ethen or Lord Quain to let them know Dracia had planned a meeting with the king today. Having one or both of them in the room with Dracia and Leal would help the king understand how serious the matter was. He wasn’t sure what to expect from his father anymore, so any support he and Dracia could have during the meeting would be welcomed.
He walked down the stairs and towards one of the palace’s sitting rooms he knew Lady Elise particularly liked in the morning.
“Prince Leal,” said Princess Lilith as she came down the stairs after him.
Leal looked up at her and walked down the hallway without saying a word. He could hear her walking quickly towards him.
“Ignoring me won’t make me go away.” Lilith walked up behind him in the hall. “It won’t change the future we are going to share.”
Leal turned around and faced. “I have told you, there will be no future for us. There could never be a future for us because I can barely stand being in the same palace with you, let alone the same room.”
The princess smiled. “That need not decide our future. Besides making heirs, we barely have to be in each other’s presence at all, but I do think your affection for me will grow in time. I have ways of bending you to my will.”
“There is nothing you could do to entice me to marry you, Princess Lilith. The only things I feel for you are annoyance and anger. You should leave and look elsewhere for a husband.”
“You don’t seem to understand that I always receive what I wish. I want to be the queen of this kingdom, and I want to be married to you. I will find a way to make it so.”
“You seem very delusional. Perhaps you are unwell,” said Leal shaking his head.
“I am not delusional. I am just very sure of myself and what I want. You will need to come to terms with reality soon. I know it will be hard giving up your Captain, but I will help you forget her if you let me,” said Lilith moving close to Leal and putting her hand on his arm.
“Do not speak of her in any way,” said Leal angrily as he pulled Lilith’s arm off of his and held it in his hand.
“It is too nice of a morning for all this racket,” said Lady Elise as she peeked out from the doorway of a nearby sitting room. She raised her eyebrows as she looked at Leal, holding Lilith’s arm. He let her arm go immediately as Lilith took a step back.
“Our conversation is not of your concern, my lady,” said the princess haughtily. “All couples have their tiffs. I am sure we will both be of one accord soon.”
Leal rolled his eyes and huffed.
Lady Elise gave one short laugh. “You will have to excuse the prince for a moment, princess. My son and grandson would like to speak with him in this room, privately.”
The princess nodded. “I will find you later, my prince. We still have much to discuss of our upcoming union.” Lilith turned and walked away.
“There is no use responding, your highness,” said Lady Elise. “Let her think what she will. You know what she wants is impossible.”
Leal looked at Lady Elise curiously. “It is. What she wants is more impossible than she could possibly know.”
“Now come in here so my son and grandson may speak with you. Ethen has told us we are to expect some unwelcomed visitors soon,” said Lady Elise walking into the room as Leal followed her.
Lord Ethen was standing near the large window in the room looking out at the palace’s middle courtyard. His father, Lord Quain was seated nearby looking up at Leal as he walked into the room. Lady Elise took a seat close to Lord Quain as Ethen turned around.
“I trust the High Captain will be here soon to meet with the king,” said Lord Ethen.
“Yes, I expect her in another hour or so. My father is not an early riser, but the Captain will want to meet with him as soon as he is available.”
“I would like to be a part of the meeting,” said Lord Quain. “I am sure my son would like to join us as well.”
Ethen nodded. “Yes, I would like to be there to support the Captain and the plans she has for the invasion by enemy forces. I don’t know what the king’s reception will be, but I believe she knows best how to protect the village.”
“We have a small group of Siccarian guards with us. I would like a few to stay here at the place to guard my mother, but the rest can join in to protect the village,” said Lord Quain.
“Will you join the battle, my lord?” asked Leal, looking at Lord Quain.
“I only wish that I could. I have an old leg injury that makes it difficult for me to move swiftly. I will stay with my mother in the inner courts unless I am needed elsewhere. I know my son will wish to fight.”
“I will,” said Lord Ethen. “I plan to be on the front lines with the High Captain.”
“I would have been happy to join you in my younger days,” said Lady Elise with a smile. “But I would only be a liability now.”
“You could probably still best many soldiers, mother, though I would prefer it if you did not try,” said Lord Quain with a smile. “We are in more need of your wisdom than your sword.”
“What of you, your highness?” Lady Elise looked at Leal. “Where will you be during the battle?”
“The High Captain has asked me to stay near the palace to see to its protection. I don’t know how well I will be able to heed her command,” said Leal defeatedly. “I would much rather be at her side.”
Lord Ethen looked at Leal with raised eyebrows. “You will do as she asked. She has her reasons, and you will have to trust her. You will also be the last defense of the palace and all who are within its walls. I understand the Captain plans to ask the king to open the outer palace walls to the people of the village.”
“She does,” confirmed Leal. “The inner walls will be open for the ladies of the court and those lords who are unable to fight. The Fortress will also be open for those who do not wish to stay at the palace.”
“The High Captain will count on you for the safety of many people, Prince Leal. You do not want to do anything to disappoint her,” said Lord Ethen.
“No, I do not,” said Leal quietly. “I have already done enough to bring her disappointment in her life, I believe.”
“No use dwelling on it if you have,” said Lady Elise. “The Captain does not seem to hold it against you. Do better going forward, and maybe one day you might actually deserve her.”
Ethen and Lord Quain laughed at this as Leal gave her a small smile.
At the tenth bell, Leal stood in the entry hall with Lord Quain and Lord Ethen as Dracia was let in by one of the palace guards.
“This is quite the welcoming party,” said Dracia, grinning.
“No more than you deserve, Captain,” said Lord Ethen good-naturedly.
“Is the king in his study, your highness?” asked Dracia turning to Leal.
“He should be. All we can do is go knock and see if he is available.” Leal turned to let Dracia lead the way. He let his hand lightly brush hers as she walked by, causing her to look at him out of the corner of her eye.
All three men followed Dracia to the king’s study. She looked up at the palace guard stationed outside the door.
“Is the king inside?” asked Dracia.
“He is, High Captain, but I am not sure he is taking any meetings this morning.”
“He will have to take this one,” said Dracia seriously. She reached up and knocked on the door three times.
They all three waited a minute in silence as there was no answer.
“Your majesty,” said Dracia loudly. “It is the High Captain, and it is very important that you speak with me immediately.”
There was a few moments of silence before the door opened with the king asking, “Have you rethought my command from the other day, Captain?”
The king stopped talking immediately and looked surprised to see the others standing at the door. “What is this all about?”
“Let us in, King Rommel, and we will tell you,” said Lord Quain as he put his hand on the door, looking at the king.
The king nodded and moved so they could all enter. He led them to the sitting area that stood at the far end of the room, away from the desk in front of the large empty fireplace. He sat down heavily in a large chair and motioned for the others to take a seat. Dracia sat on the sofa facing the king as Leal sat beside her. Lord Ethen and Lord Quain took chairs on each side of the sofa.
“Your majesty, there is no easy way to say this, and we have no time for idle chit chat. There is a large group of enemy forces headed this way. They will be here in less than five days, so we must take action now to prepare Winsdell and the palace,” said Dracia.
The king sat back in his seat and, with a frown, staring at Dracia. “How large of a group do you mean?”
“We don’t have a complete count, but I would say at least two thousand soldiers,” answered Dracia.
“So many?” asked the king. “Where are they all from?”
“All the ones my Elites have seen have been dressed as Gedonial soldiers, but I do not know how Gedonia could have so many fighters. They must be getting help from somewhere, but we do not know. I think it might be linked with the uprising we have heard of in the kingdom.”
“I accompanied the Captain out on the mission to save some of her Elites from the group of traitors. As we were leaving, a large group of what looked like Gedonial soldiers were headed our way. Whatever this is, it goes beyond just Gedonia. We will need to figure this out, but first, you must deal with the problem at hand,” said Ethen sitting forward in his seat.
The king nodded slightly. “What is your suggestion, High Captain?”
“The bulk of the forces will probably come from our east hills as the river to the west of the village would take longer for soldiers to cross. I will put most of the Sentinel Elites out in the hills to meet the threat head-on. A smaller group will stay by the river and keep watch. I plan to have my novices who have been training to stay in the rear lines close to the Fortress. The palace guards will see to securing the palace and village center.”
“Have you spoke with the captain of the palace guards?” asked the king.
“I am going to do it, father. I will be in charge of securing the palace and the center of the village.” said Leal looked at Dracia and then his father.
“You want to be out amongst the fighting?” asked the king. “That is preposterous. You will remain in the inner rooms of the castle with your sister and our guests. You can see to protecting and keeping the ladies of the courts, and especially Princess Lilith, calm.”
“I think you will find that most of the able ladies of the Siccarian court will wish to help with the fighting in some way,” said Lord Ethan. “Our women are not ones who will stand helpless behind the palace walls. They will at least want to aid those who are injured. “
“I will see to securing the palace, father. I would rather be on the front lines, protecting our village and our people, but the High Captain has asked me to do otherwise. I will listen to her wise advice. The Cassendar’s have too long left the safety of our kingdom to others. The gods have blessed us with powers to see to the defense of our kingdom.”
“What do you know of using your powers, Leal?” asked the king furiously. “You can barely control them.”
“I can do more with them than you know, and if it comes to it, I believe I can use them to help our kingdom. There is no use arguing with me, father; it will do no good.”
“I would also like to talk with you about protecting the people of the village. I expect the lords and ladies of the court will be allowed to shelter within the palace?” asked Dracia, looking at the king.
The king took his eyes off his son to look at the High Captain and nodded.
“I would also like the common folk of the village to be able to shelter within the outer wall of the palace. We can take some to the Fortress, but I would like to split the group up between the two.”
“You want to bring the common folk into the palace walls?” asked the king, shaking his head. “That has never been done.”
“So,” said Lord Quain. “The very heart of your kingdom is the common folk. Who raises your crops and sees to the needs of the people? You would do good to protect them.”
“Who will keep them in line? What if they decide to raid the palace?”
“The palace guards should be more than capable of handling the women, children, and elderly of the village,” said Dracia. “Most of the men will want to stay with their homes, shops, and farms, to protect them.”
“That might be a good place for the ladies of Siccaria to serve as well as a few of your novices, High Captain,” suggested Lord Ethen.
Dracia nodded. “I will see to putting a few novices within the walls of the castle and the Fortress to watch over the common folk.”
The king looked at Lord Ethen before turning to Dracia. “Very well, if you think it will be safe, we will invite some of the common folk into the outer wall of the palace.”
“Thank you, your majesty,” said Dracia bowing her head.
“Do you think the Sentinel in its current state can see to this threat, High Captain?” asked the king.
“I do.” Dracia stood up. “I have complete belief we will be victorious, and Winsdell and the High Palace will stand. I must go see to preparation, unless you have any other business with me, your majesty.”
The king stood as everyone else rose from their positions. “No, High Captain, I do not. Go see to the Sentinel. Keep me informed of your preparations and any movements of the enemy forces. I expect a message from you every morning for the next few days.”
“Of course, your majesty,” said Dracia as she turned to walk to the door. Lord Ethen and Lord Quain bowed before following her. Leal moved to leave the room as well.
“Stay for a moment, Leal. I would like to speak with you,” said the king.
Leal watched the others leave before he turned to his father.
“You don’t really mean to be out of the palace walls during this mess, do you?” asked his father.
“I will if it comes to it. I will stay in the towers watching the battle at first, but if it moves towards the center of the village and the palace, I will go and fight for my kingdom and its people.”
“Why would you risk yourself when we have the Sentinel and the palace guard? You would do better to keep safe within the castle.”
“No, I will not hide away when my people and village are in danger. Our family has used the excuse of the Sentinel for too long when it comes to defending our kingdom. We should fight with them.”
“Is this her doing? Did she tell you this nonsense?” asked the king.
“No, I am doing this because it is right. It is true she has asked me to stay close to the palace, but if it were up to me, I would be by her side during this battle.”
“You speak of ridiculous things, Leal. Do not go on again about your love for her; I do not want to hear it.”
“It doesn’t matter what you want to hear. I want to protect her because she is the next queen of this kingdom. I cannot lead as king without her. I know it is true. I wish more than anything I could keep her out of this fight, but I know who she is. I know where she is needed. While I have promised her to stay close to the palace during the battle, if I see a way to help her at any point, I will not hesitate.”
The king shook his head. “I should tie you up and keep you deep in the palace. I should send you far away.”
“You can try, but you would not be successful.” Leal paused for a moment and took a breath. “There is something else you should know before I leave this room because I am done with you. After this battle, I will let everyone in this kingdom know where my heart lies and who my queen will be. Nothing will stop me from bringing her to the palace as my wife, especially not you.”
The king looked very red in the face as he opened his mouth.
“Save it father; I already know everything you are going to say. You can bluster all you want, you can threaten to kill Dracia, and you can even try. She has too many allies, too many connections, and too much power as the High Captain for you to harm her in any way, and you know it. I will do everything to protect her as well. I suppose you could have me killed, but I don’t think that would work out well for you either.
“Remember when this is over, we still have a huge threat hanging over us in this kingdom, and many other problems our people are facing. You need to decide how you will respond as king. If you will not do your duty by your people, then I will.”
“Is that a threat, Leal?”
“It is a promise to do right by Lanoxan, and I have the resources and the connections to see that promise through. I would much rather you do it with me father, but in the end, I will see to the safety of our kingdom and its people.” Leal turned and walked out of the study without looking back at his father.