Roderick sat in a chair by the prince’s bed, watching Dracia as she slept. The sun had long set, and there was no moon in the sky to light the room. The only light came from the fireplace and a few small candles that burned on the two tables by the bed. Roderick was tired and his body longed for rest, but he could not stop watching his High Captain as she slept.
He had sent word to Darron at the Fortress to oversee the prisoners and to start cleaning up the bodies and wreckage from the battle. As Dracia’s second, Roderick knew he should go help lead the Sentinel, but the Crown Prince had told him not to leave her side. Roderick didn’t think he could leave her if he tried, not after all she had done for him and all she meant to him. He was too devoted to leave her when she was in need.
It was almost unbearably hot in the room with the raging fire in the fireplace and the windows shut, but Dracia had just seemed to get comfortable enough to sleep well in the last few hours. He could still see her shudder at times, especially when she would turn and one of her many blankets would shift.
Roderick reached forward and took her hand that was peeking out of the blankets. It was so cold, and it felt strange. The cold almost seems to radiate off of it, running down Roderick’s arm. A moment ago, he had been sweating; now, he felt as if he could use a blanket or cloak himself. He felt Dracia lightly squeeze his hand as he held it. He was afraid she would wake up again, and she needed to sleep. He dropped her hand, and she put it underneath her cheek and seemed to sleep on.
She had been awake off and on through the late afternoon and evening. She had spoken quietly for a while with Lady Elise. The older woman had spent a few hours by Dracia’s side, holding her hand and telling her old stories of Siccaria until Dracia drifted off to sleep.
Later Princess Lexine had come in and sat with Dracia. She had spoken to her, telling Dracia what the Prince had done to save Dracia’s life. Dracia hadn’t said much, but Roderick could see the tears in her eyes. Princess Lexine had tried to reassure Dracia, telling her Prince Leal would think of a way out of it. She told Dracia, the prince would never abandon her. Dracia only nodded and cried softly, telling Princess Lexine she just wanted to sleep.
The princess stayed in the room, speaking quietly with Galen until she decided to retire. Galen left with the princess, telling Roderick since the High Captain seemed to be recovering, he should head back to the Fortress. Roderick agreed, telling Galen he would be there when he could and would update Galen on the High Captain’s condition then.
Roderick was angry after hearing what the Prince had done to gain Dracia’s healing. He knew he shouldn’t be. He knew the prince had only done what he had to do to save Dracia’s life, but the thought of what the heartache would do to his High Captain was too much for Roderick. He knew what the prince had promised should be impossible, but Roderick knew that royals seemed to be able to pull off the impossible all the time, especially when it met their needs.
He closed his eyes for a moment, feeling his weariness wash over him. The day he had just lived seemed too full of everything. It was too full of harsh images of men dying around him. It was too full of overwhelming feelings of fear, disgust, anger, and wonder. He could still see Dracia as she performed all of her impressive acts of Mystics. He could still hear the screams of the soldiers as they were slung around by the water. He could hear the thuds and squishes of people being smashed by large stones.
He could still see the knife as it hit Dracia while Roderick blocked the sword of another man. He could still see her face when she realized something was very wrong. He could feel her limp body in his arms, and the helplessness he felt when he knew there was nothing he could do to help her.
He opened his eyes to look at Dracia as she slept. He reminded himself that she would live. The thought seemed impossible only a few hours ago as he watched his brother and Princess Lexine furiously do all they could to stall the poison in her body. Galen had been relentless, moving his hands around, ordering Roderick to wipe her forehead with a cool cloth, to try to keep her fever down, and muttering to himself as he manipulated the poison within Dracia.
Princess Lexine had helped Galen where she could, following behind him with her own use of Mystics and giving Galen advice as he worked. When Galen left for the night, Roderick could see just how exhausted he was. While Princess Lilith had ultimately saved Dracia’s life. it would not have been possible without Galen’s hard work and skill. Now, Dracia would live, but at what cost?
She was strong, Roderick told himself. Even if the prince did have to follow through with his promise and marry Princess Lilith, Dracia would live on serving as the High Captain with purpose. She would be heartbroken, but she would pick herself up and go on. Roderick knew she would find that all she was, was not tied to the prince. She was so much more, and he would help her realize it if he had to.
Roderick felt his eyes close, and he almost drifted off when he heard the door to the sitting room open and shut. He blinked open his eyes and looked at Dracia to see her fast asleep. He stood up, stretched, and went into the sitting room to see Prince Leal talking quietly with his attendant. The prince looked up as he saw Roderick come into the room.
“Malven, you may go. Thank you for all of your help today. If we need anything before the morning, I will contact you,” said Prince Leal, dismissing his attendant.
Malven nodded. “I do hope she continues to recover, your highness. Do not hesitate to call for me no matter the time if I am needed.” Malven bowed before he quit the room, shutting the door behind him.
“How is she, Roderick?” asked the prince as Roderick walked close to him.
“She is asleep. I am hoping she will sleep for some time, so it is best not to disturb her. Besides the poison, she used a vast amount of energy today fighting and performing Mystics. She will need much rest in the coming days.”
“I understand. I will want to see her in a moment, but I will not wake her. First, I believe you might want to speak with me before you leave.”
“Leave?” asked Roderick. “Forgive me, your highness, but I don’t understand you. You can’t think I will leave her when she is this ill.”
“You will need to go back to the Fortress to clean up and rest. I will be here with her; you do not need to worry.” Prince Leal picked up a pitcher of wine and poured two glasses half full.
“I wouldn’t think your betrothed would approve of you spending the night in your room alone with another woman.”
The prince chuckled. “My betrothed,” said Prince Leal dismissively. “Roderick, you know what a joke it is to call that women my betrothed. There will never be a wedding. Now, come sit with me for a moment and have a drink.”
Roderick sighed and walked over, taking the glass Prince Leal was holding out to him. He sat down heavily in a chair, taking a sip of the wine as the prince sat across from him.
“You are angry at me, aren’t you?” asked Prince Leal.
“I am, though I know I probably shouldn’t be, but I can’t help but think of the heartache that you will cause my High Captain.”
“You think I will see the marriage to Prince Lilith through till the end?” asked the prince. “I know you are not such a fool to believe it. I can’t marry Lilith. She doesn’t know it, but soon she will.”
“You are playing a dangerous game, your highness. Navalia is a powerful kingdom, and you have made their princess and the king a promise. If you do not see it through, there will be serious consequences.”
“You are right,” said Prince Leal. “But what choice did I have, Roderick? Should I have just let Dracia die? Would you not be angry with me if I let her die knowing there was a way to save her?”
“As I said, your highness, my anger is probably not justified, but I feel protective of my Captain. I can’t help but see you as a threat to her now.”
“I am not a threat to her,” said Prince Leal as he drank most of his wine in one gulp. “I would do anything for her, even risk open war with Navalia.”
“It seems a war will put her in even more danger. You know who is she, and what she will have to do if Navalia comes for us.”
“I don’t believe any goodwill we have with Navalia would have lasted long anyway. I don’t think it should. Navalia has grown too powerful over the years. Their royal family has ruthlessly governed their people, taking up smaller kingdoms around it and destroying old ways of life. Perhaps we need to be in open war with Navalia,” said Prince Leal.
“You are now aligned with them, no matter if you want to admit it or not. What happens if you can’t get out of this marriage agreement? You will bring a Navalian princess here as our eventual queen, and Dracia will be forced to serve under you and her.”
“It will never come to it,” said Leal. “There is no way I can marry Lilith. I don’t plan to see her again after she leaves here in the next couple of weeks, not if I can help it.”
“I hope you are correct, your highness, but I can’t help but be uneasy and warry for our kingdom and Dracia.”
“I understand your worry for the kingdom, Roderick, but you must know I would never do anything to hurt Dracia.”
“But you have hurt her. You have hurt her many times. I have never seen her cry over anything but you. She is so strong and sure of everything in her life, but you. I know you have never meant to hurt her, but you have. You have made her feel like some shameful secret. She doesn’t deserve it.” Roderick finished his wine and put his glass down
The prince was quiet for a moment with his head down. He took a breath and looked at Roderick. “You are right. I have not treated her as she deserves. I should have told my father long ago I would not hide her. I should have done everything I could to show the kingdom who she really is to me, no matter how many times she told me not to.
“I cannot change the past, but I can tell you with certainty that Dracia is my future. I love her. I love her beyond anything, even this kingdom, though I shouldn’t say it.”
Roderick rubbed his tired eyes, laying his head back against the chair. What could he say? He was tired of Dracia being hurt. He wanted to protect her, but Roderick knew he could not keep her from the prince. It was not his place, and it was not possible.
“You care deeply for her, Roderick. I know you do.”
“It is true. There are few in this kingdom I care about as much as her.”
“She cares about you as well. You are important to her.” Leal paused and leaned forward. “I will swear to you that I will not disappoint or hurt her again. I will fight for her as long as she still wants me. If you find me lacking in any way, I want you to let me know. I don’t want you to hold back because of my position. I want you to be honest with me and hold me accountable. I want to get to the point where you believe I am worthy of her in some way.”
“You have a long way to go before I believe you could ever be worthy of her,” said Roderick. “But I will let you try. She loves you, and she will not give you up, so I will do it for her. I will let you know if I think you are disappointing her in your actions.”
“Good,” said Leal as he stood up. “Now, you are exhausted. You should get back to the Fortress and rest. You can come back tomorrow to see to your High Captain, but tonight you must trust her care to me. At some point, when she is up to it, I have some things to explain to her.”
Roderick stood up and stretched. “Your sister has already let her know about your arrangement with Navalia. Princess Lexine tried to tell Dracia not to worry, but I am not sure Dracia was in any position to process anything.”
“I wish Lex had let me talk to her first, but of course, she wouldn’t want to hide anything from her friend. I can explain it all to Dracia. She will be sure of our love in the end. She knows where we both stand.”
Roderick nodded. “I will go, but if anything changes in the night, please send for me.”
“I will,” said the prince. “Be careful going back. Your horse and Dracia’s were taken to the stables, but if you ask a guard for yours, it can be fetched quickly. Just talk to one of the guards on duty.”
Roderick nodded again and turned to go. He walked to the door and paused, looking back at the prince. He walked back to Prince Leal, taking something out of his pocket. He held out his hand to the prince holding Dracia’s locket in his palm. Prince Leal slowly took it from Roderick, holding in his own hand as he stared at it.
“I took this off of her when you went to talk to the Navalians. I didn’t think you would want Princess Lilith to see her wearing it.”
“No,” said Leal as he looked at the locket in his hands. He looked up at Roderick. “Thank you for taking care of her; you always do.”
“Your highness, you should know that if you do hurt her in a way, I find unacceptable, I will not hesitate to call you out. You may have powers I don’t, but I think you would find me a worthy opponent.”
“I am sure I would, Roderick.”