Leal watched as Dracia manipulated the stones from the destroyed wall all around, taking out what was left of the enemy soldiers. It was very hard to comprehend what was happening. He had known she was a powerful user of Mystics. He had seen her do amazing things himself, but he had no idea she could do something like this. He didn’t know if he even believed anyone could do anything like this. To control hundreds of different objects at once and control precisely where they would go must have taken an enormous amount of power, skill, and concentration.
He was marveling at her ability when he saw it coming out of the corner of his eye, something small flying towards her. He thought perhaps it was a small stone she had lost control of or a large amount of dust gathered in one place, but as it hit her, he realized it was a knife. It somehow made it through the defenses of Ethen and Roderick, who had been close to her side, keeping threats away from her.
Leal gasped as it sunk into her shoulder, but Dracia didn’t even seem to register she had been hit. He looked around to see where it could have come from, but he saw only Sentinel Elites and palace guards nearby. He turned his eyes back to Dracia.
She kept concentrating until the last of the stones had found their mark. She finally put her hands down, and she swayed, trying to stay on her feet. He immediately started moving towards her, wanting nothing more than to hold her and steady her. She must be exhausted after all she had done.
As he walked towards her, he thought there must be something wrong besides her being drained. She pulled the knife from her shoulder and stumbled forward. He knew she was going to fall. He increased his pace, trying to get to her as he watched Roderick catch her as her legs gave out, and she dropped towards the ground. Roderick knelled down with Dracia in his arms as Leal ran the last few steps and kneeled down at her side.
“What is wrong?” he asked breathlessly, looking at Roderick, who was staring at Dracia. Leal looked at Dracia to see she was fighting to keep her eyes open.
“I don’t know,” answered Roderick. He looked up at someone who was standing over them. Leal followed his stare to see Roderick’s younger brother, Galen looking down at the High Captain.
“Let me try something.” Galen kneeled down in front of them.
Before Leal or Roderick could respond, Galen hovered his hands over Dracia. Leal knew Galen had been studying healing. Dracia had told him of Galen’s already proficient healing abilities. Maybe Galen could do something to help her, or maybe he would know what they needed to do to see her well.
“Poison,” said Galen looking at Roderick. “The knife must have been poisoned. It is in her blood; we need to get her inside somewhere so we can see if we can purge it.”
Poison thought Leal, horrified. The knife that hit her was poisoned? He looked at where the knife was sticking into the ground to see all the grass was dead around it. Galen must have been right. They needed to get her somewhere inside and find a healer to help her. He saw the palace out of the corner of his eye.
“We can take her to the palace.” Leal carefully put his arms under her and lifted her up and out of Roderick’s arms. She shifted slightly as he held her, making a small groaning sound.
Leal walked as quickly as he could with her in his arms towards the palace gates. He looked down at her to see her half-opened eyes looking up at him. He could feel her shaking in his embrace.
“It will be alright, my love,” he whispered as he carried her through the gates. “We will find you help.”
Lexine met him just inside the gates. She walked next to him, peering at Dracia in his arms.
“What happened?” she asked fearfully. “Will she be alright?”
Leal didn’t have the will or strength to answer her. He kept moving forward, thinking only of getting Dracia some kind of help. His sister looked back and then stopped as heLeal walked on, entering the palace through the front doors the guards opened for him. He didn’t pause as he walked up the stairs, shifting Dracia a little in her arms as she grunted in obvious pain. Leal looked down and could see her eyes were now tightly closed, her face in a grimace, as sweat fell down her forehead.
He got to the second floor and turned towards his rooms, their rooms. She would stay there and recover. There was nowhere else she should be. He got to his door, thinking of how he would shift her so he could take down the wards and open it. He put his hand on the door with Dracia in his arms as Ethen came up beside him. He turned to Ethen and nodded his head towards the door. Ethen moved forward and turned the knob, letting Leal enter the rooms with Dracia.
Leal went immediately to the bedroom, passing Malven, who looked concerned as he watched him walk by with Dracia in his arms. He gently placed Dracia on the bed and sat down next to her, taking her hand, and pushing back her hair off her forehead. She was so hot to the touch. She moved slightly in the bed and opened her eyes, looking up at Leal.
“Water,” she whispered. “Please, I need water.”
“I will get her some, your highness,” said Malven, who had come into the room. He turned and started to walk to the sitting room.
“You will probably need to bring a bowl of water, and some rags, as well,” said Ethen, who was standing over Dracia. “She seems to be feverish.”
Malven nodded and left the room just as Roderick walked in with Galen and Lexine behind him.
“You will need to move for a moment, Leal.” Lexine and Galen walked up to Dracia’s side. “We will need to see what we can do.”
Leal let go of Dracia’s hand and stood up, moving back as Galen came forward and placed his hands over Dracia’s chest. Lexine stood next to him, hovering one of her hands next to Galen’s. Leal walked back to stand next to Ethen and Roderick as they all three watched and waited in silence.
“What do you think?” asked Lexine, whispering to Galen.
“I am afraid I was right, do you agree?” asked Galen in return.
Lexine flexed her hand and sighed. She brought her hand to her side and put her head down. “Yes, you were right.”
“What is it?” asked Leal urgently. “What is wrong with her?”
Galen dropped his hands and turned to look at Leal. “She has been poisoned by the dew of the nettle weed. It must have been on the knife that hit her.”
“What can be done?” asked Leal. “I can have Malven send for a healer. I can get one myself. I will make sure Sarin comes immediately.”
“It won’t matter.” Lexine looked at Leal with tears in her eyes. “Not even Sarin can help her. She can’t be healed by any one of the Academy.”
“What do you mean?” asked Roderick.
“There is no elixir for this. There is no way to flush this from her system. There is nothing that can be done,” said Lexine as tears started to fall from her eyes.
“So, you mean,” started Leal, not wanting to finish what he was going to say. It was impossible to think it. It could not be true.
“Yes,” said Lexine as a sob escaped her. “We can’t help her; all we can do is wait. It won’t take long.”
“No,” said Leal walking over to bend over Galen and look down at Dracia. “There has to be something, anything. I will go bring every healer we have in the town. One of them can do something, surely.”
Lexine shook her head. “There is nothing any of them can do.”
Leal felt his breath catch. He turned away for a moment, refusing to believe what his sister was saying.
Ethen looked at Leal, walking forward slightly. “Is there nothing that can truly be done?”
“There is nothing any of our healers can do,” said Galen as he turned and looked at Ethen and Leal. “But I think there is something that can be done.”
“What is it, Galen. What can you do?” asked Roderick.
“It is nothing I can do.” Galen looked at his brother for a moment before turning his eyes to Leal. “Your highness, are the Navalians still staying in the palace?”
Leal was confused by the questions for a moment before he realized why Galen would ask. They had the power of life and death. He had seen it himself from Princess Lilith.
“Yes, they are here,” said Leal.
“I believe the royal family from Navalia has powers that may be able to help the High Captain. They will need to hurry, though. This poison works fast.”
“I will go find the princess and the king and speak with them now,” said Leal as he turned to walk from the room. He stopped for a moment and looked at Galen. “Can you do anything to slow the poison to give me time?”
“I can try. It won’t be pleasant for the High Captain, but I can try to stall the poison’s progression. Lexine, you will have to help me.”
“Do what you can,” said Leal as Lexine nodded to Galen.
Leal walked out of the room to find Malven walking towards the bedroom holding a bowl with a pitcher of water in it. He had several rags slung over his shoulder. Leal stopped Malven for a moment.
“Malven, do whatever Galen Ellis or my sister ask of you. I will be back as soon as I can.” Leal continued to walk towards the door.
“Yes, your highness, of course,” said Malven.
“Wait, Leal,” said Ethen walking quickly out of the bedroom. “Are you really going to ask the Navalians to help with this?”
“Yes,” said Leal opening the door. “It seems to be the only hope she has. I can’t let her die. I have to do something.”
He walked out the door and towards the stairs to go to the palace’s inner courts where he hoped the Navalians were still staying with the rest of the king’s court and visitors.
“You need to think about this,” said Ethen catching up with Leal. “If you ask this of them, it will not come free. They will not help the Captain out of the goodness of their hearts because there is no goodness in them. They may not even have hearts. You will have to pay a price.”
“I will pay any price to save Dracia,” said Leal. “I have to try something.”
“But it might not be just you who pays the price,” said Ethen as they walked down the stairs. “You have to think of your whole kingdom, of all your people. The Captain would not want you to place her over your people.”
“What do you want me to do, Ethen? Do you think I can just stand back and watch her die? You say you have a lover back home. What would you do for her?”
Ethen let out a breath. “Fine, but you need to be careful of what you say and promise to the Navalians. If they agree to do this, they will try to trick you in some way. They will only agree if they think they can get something they want from you.”
“I know what they want from me. I think I know what will be asked of me. You have to trust me, Ethen. I know what I am doing.” Leal turned and walked down a long hallway.
They reached the end of the hallway and turned right down another hallway coming to a large pair of double doors. Leal knocked loudly, announcing himself. The doors opened, and he walked into a large room filled with the kingdom’s lords and ladies.
“You may tell the lords and ladies, they can return to their homes,” said Leal to a nearby guard. “The battle is won by the Sentinel.”
The guard nodded and Leal walked on with Ethen by his side. As Leal approached another set of double doors, he spotted Dracia’s parents close by, sitting at a table. He looked at them for a moment, considering telling them about their daughter, but he didn’t think there was time. He would send a note to them when he knew Dracia was safe.
Leal knocked at the next set of doors and announced himself once again. He was let in immediately. Walking into the room, he was meet by his father.
“Is it over?” asked the king. “Were we victorious?”
“Yes,” said Leal looking at his father. “The Sentinel and the High Captain have saved your village and your people, father.”
“What happened?” asked the king.
“I will tell you some other time. I am looking for King Arnar and his daughter at the moment.” Leal scanned the room. He spotted them at the very left corner, sitting together on a sofa with their own court around them. He left his father without another word, walking towards the Navalians, Ethen following him.
He walked up to the sofa the Navalians were sitting on, as Princess Lilith and King Arnar both stood.
“Prince Leal,” said Lilith with a large smile. “I hope this means the battle is over and all is well.”
“The battle is over, and we have won, but all is not well. I need to speak with you urgently. I have a large request of you.”
“Oh,” said the princess happily. “Whatever it is, I hope I can oblige you in some way.”
“Let us go into the side room over there, princess. Your father should come as well,” said Leal.
The princess looked at her father who was turned and whispered to a woman behind him. He nodded to his daughter and the princess gliding over to the room with her father at her side. Leal looked at Ethen and they both started following the Navalians.
“Ethen, is everything well?” asked Lady Elise as she came up to walk beside Ethen.
“No, it is not, grandmother. The battle was won, but the High Captain was gravely injured. I don’t believe she has much time left,” said Ethen quietly as they walked.
“What?” Lady Elise grabbed Ethen’s arm.
“There is a lot to tell, but right now, I must go with Prince Leal to the Navalians. He is asking for their help with the matter, and you know how dangerous this is.”
“Yes,” answered Lady Elise in a whisper. “Let me come with you. Your father should be there, too.”
Lady Elise looked back and motioned to her son to hurry and join them. He caught up with them as they entered the side room, Ethen closing the door behind them all.
“What is it you wish to ask with so many witnesses, Prince Leal?” asked Lilith as she looked around at all the people who had come into the room with a confused look on her face.
“I need your help; actually, the High Captain needs your help. She was injured during the battle, poisoned by a knife that struck her. She is dying at the moment, and our healers can do nothing. I believe the only one who can save her is you or your father.”
“Oh, how tragic,” said Princess Lilith with a small frown. “I am so sorry you will lose your friend and High Captain, but for my father or me to do something would be practically impossible.”
“Why?” asked Lady Elise moving forward to be close to Princess Lilith. “We all know what power you possess. You could save her if you chose to do it.”
Princess Lilith smiled slightly and glanced at her father. “Yes, my power is very strong, but to use it on a person no matter how good of a cause is not something that can be taken lightly. Our magic always comes at a cost. Things must be kept in balance as our goddesses demand it.” King Arnar nodded with a blank look on his face.
“What is the cost to save her?” asked Leal. “Whatever it is, tell me, and I will find a way to pay it.”
There was a loud knock at the door as everyone turned to look at it. Lord Quain walked over and opened it slightly. Leal could see his father peeking into the room.
“What is going on in here?” asked the king loudly. “If my son is involved, I demand to be let in so I may see what he is speaking of.”
Leal didn’t have time to argue, so he nodded at Lord Quain, who opened the door wider to admit the king before closing it again.
“Leal, what is going on?” asked the king, walking close to his son.
“I don’t have time to tell you right now, father. I am speaking with our guests, asking a favor of much importance. You will need to be silent and wait.”
“Leal, I demand to know what is going on,” said the king loudly.
Leal closed his eyes and shook his head. He did not have time for this right now. Dracia was dying upstairs, and his father was causing Leal to lose precious minutes. He felt his power that had been unsettled all day grow inside of him. All of this was the king’s fault. He had let Dracia be named High Captain. He had kept her from her rightful place by Leal’s side. Leal would be glad to be done with his father from this moment forth. He opened his eyes and turned to his father.
“Be silent, now. You will swallow whatever questions you have and hold your tongue for the rest of this meeting, or I will cut it out myself,” said Leal with vehemence.
The king took two steps back from Leal, and Leal could see the fear in his eyes.
“Now, what is the cost to save her?” asked Leal, blinking his eyes for one moment to settle himself before he looked at Princess Lilith and her father.
“Usually, the cost for life is another life,” said Lilith.
“Fine,” said Leal. “You can take mine.”
Lilith laughed. “I will not take your life, Prince Leal; that would mean I never get to have what I want. “
“You can take mine,” said Lady Elise moving forward. “If you need some sort of sacrifice to save the High Captain, use me.”
Leal looked at Lady Elise.
“Grandmother!” said Ethen in shock. “You can’t mean it.”
“I do,” said Lady Elise. “I will not let that young woman die if there is something I can do.”
“I am afraid what is left of your life would not be a fair trade for one so young,” said Princess Lilith. “Besides, I do not wish to kill anyone today. Usually, it is life for a life, but I believe we can work out another trade.”
“What is it you want?” asked Leal.
“For the life of the High Captain, I do want your life in a way, Prince Leal. I want you to pledge your life to me. I want you to agree to take me as your wife and let me be the Queen of Lanoxan when it is time for you to rule,” answered Princess Lilith with a large smile.
Ethen grabbed Leal’s arm and turned him. “You cannot give her this,” Ethen whispered urgently. “She will be the ruin of you and your kingdom. The Captain would not want this.”
Leal held up his free hand at Ethen. “Trust me,” he said very quietly as Ethen let him go. Leal turned and looked at the Princess. “You want me to agree to marry you and let you be my queen?”
“Yes,” answered the Princess.
“This means you will want a betrothal and marriage blessed by the king’s gods. If you truly want to be the queen, our marriage will have to be blessed by our gods.”
“Yes, I want a true marriage with you, blessed by your gods and mine. If you agree to this and I save your High Captain, you will come to Navalia this winter for our goddesses’ blessings, and then I will come here to be blessed by your gods for our wedding.”
Leal glanced at Ethen, who was looking at Leal curiously. He finally gave Leal a very slight nod.
“Very well, if you come now and save the High Captain, I will agree to enter into a betrothal with you, that can only lead to a marriage blessed by the gods.”
“I want everything to be done right, so there is no question that I am the queen when the time comes. I will only heal her if I have you in the proper way, blessed by the gods,” said Lilith.
“Done.” Leal held out his hand.
“That easily done?” asked the princess. “You are willing to do all I ask just for this?”
“I would do anything to save her, including promise to marry you,” replied Leal still holding his hand out.
The princess looked at her father before she took Leal’s hand. Leal bent down and kissed it looking up at the princess. She jerked back her hand as he let it go, massaging the outside of it.
“Now, you will need to hurry to see to the High Captain. Remember, our deal only stands if you save her. She is very unwell.”
“I will come now,” said the princess. “Where is she?”
“In my rooms,” replied Leal as he turned to go.
He walked to the door, opening it, hearing the footsteps of everyone following him. He looked over to see his father at his side.
“I know this isn’t what you wanted, but you have done the right thing, my son,” said the king. “You will save the High Captain and your kingdom.”
Leal smiled slightly. “I think you are right, father.”
Leal walked quickly to his rooms. He looked behind him to see Princess Lilith was close to him, jogging to keep up with his steps. Ethen was walking with his grandmother on his arm behind her, both of them whispering to one another. Leal had been surprised the old woman was willing to give up her life for Dracia, but Lady Elise did seem fond of her. He would have to thank the older woman later.
He finally arrived at the door to his rooms. He paused for a second, afraid of what he might find. If they were too late, he wasn’t sure what he would do or how he would go on. He finally put his hand on the door, knowing that he could not waste time by being scared. He had to face whatever lay behind the door.
Opening the door, he was met by a grim-faced Malven.
“Is she still…,” started Leal, unable to get the rest of the words out.
“She is hanging on, your highness,” said Malven. “Your sister and Galen Ellis have worked nonstop.”
Leal nodded and motioned for Princess Lilith to follow him as he walked immediately into his bedroom. Dracia was lying on her back on one side of the bed; she was tossing and turning, arching her back as though in great pain. Galen and Lexine had their hands over her, both looking sweaty and exhausted. Roderick was pacing back and forth at the side of the room, his hair disheveled as if he had constantly run his hands through it.”
“Please move out of the way,” said Princess Lilith as she walked over to the side of the bed near Dracia. “Everyone will need to be quiet and still for this to work. I need to concentrate.”
Galen walked over to stand next to his brother, and Lexine came over to be next to Leal. Ethen and his grandmother, who had just entered, stood close to the door. Lexine took Leal’s hand as Princess Lilith put her hand on Dracia’s arm.
Lilith leaned down close to Dracia’s face and closed her eyes. Leal watched as the princess took deep breaths, and her grip on Dracia’s arm tightened. Dracia went still, her only movement was the rapid rise and fall of her chest Lilith stayed motionless for a moment before she leaned down and kissed Dracia on her forehead, lingering for a few seconds. Leal shivered as he felt the temperature in the room drop. Next to him, Lexine let go of his hand, crossing her arms, rubbing them as though trying to get warm.
Lilith stood up and let go of Dracia as she shuddered for a moment. Leal kept his eyes on Dracia. She was very still. He could barely see her chest move, and he was afraid they had been too late. A few moments later, Dracia drew a large breath and opened her eyes. Leal walked over to her immediately, moving Princess Lilith back.
He sat down and took Dracia’s hand, feeling her squeeze his in return. She turned and looked at him as he pulled her hand to his lips and kissed it. It felt unbelievably cold. He could feel the strange Navalian magic in her skin, upsetting the power within him. He dared not let his power try to draw it out of her, afraid it may stop the healing that was taking place within her.
“How do you feel, my love?” he asked
“I am so cold and tired,” she said in a voice barely above a whisper.
“We will build you a fire and get you some blankets. You need to rest.”
She nodded and closed her eyes as Leal let go of her hand to pull the covers out from under her gently. He pulled them up over her to her chin. She turned to her side and burrowed into the bed coverings.
“Come, my prince,” said Lilith putting her hand on Leal’s arm. “We must go speak with our fathers and make arrangements for our betrothal and upcoming marriage.”
“Surely, that can wait,” said Leal. He did not want to leave Dracia. He wanted to stay and make sure she was warm and safe. He wanted to take care of her and see that she was truly well.
“No, it cannot not,” said Lilith forcefully. “I did as you asked, now you will do as I wish. I would hate to regret entering into this bargain with you.”
Leal looked at Lilith, hearing the threat in her tone. He looked down at Dracia, realizing he had to leave and get Lilith away from her. He picked up Dracia’s hand and kissed it one more time.
“I will be back soon,” he said quietly, seeing that Dracia had fallen asleep.
Leal stood up, letting go of Dracia’s hand. He looked around the room to see Roderick eyeing him with something like distaste. He saw Galen standing close to Lexine, holding her hand. Lexie’s eyes were wide and confused as she looked at Leal.
“Do not leave her. See that she stays warm,” said Leal to Roderick. “I will tell my man to give you whatever you need for her. I will come back later to check on her.”
Roderick nodded as he scowled at Leal.
“Lexine, you should come with me. There are a few things we need to discuss.” Leal looked at his sister. She nodded as she dropped Galen’s hand.
He stopped at the door, looking at Ethen and Lady Elise, wanting to say something, but found any words he could say meaningless.
Lady Elise took his hand. “I will stay with her for a while and make sure she is comfortable. All will be well, your highness. I believe it,”
Leal nodded as he walked out of the bedroom. Lilith came up to him as they entered the sitting room. “We will need to have the Captain moved very soon. It is not proper she stays here in your room.”
Leal closed his eyes, feeling his anger and annoyance upset his power. “She will stay here as long as is needed. I will not have her moved while she is ill in any way.”
He wanted to tell the princess that Dracia was always welcomed in these rooms because they were hers as well. They would always be Dracia’s and not this woman who seems to think she had some claim over him. He wanted to say all that and more, but he knew he couldn’t.
“Malven, could you please go find my attendant, Beca, and tell her to bring one of my heavy nightgowns and see to the High Captain. Beca will need to clean her and try to make sure the High Captain is as comfortable as possible,” said Lexine.
“Yes, your highness, I will go directly.”
“Anything that is needed for her, do it, Malven,” said Leal.
“Of course, your highness. I would not do anything less for her,” said Malven with a small bow.
“Prince Leal, we must go now. We have much to discuss,” said Lilith as she grabbed Leal’s arm.
Leal let her guide him out of the room, Lexine following just behind him.