Galen walked back to the Fortress through the woods after his last class of the day at the Royal Academy. Princess Lexine walked by his side, humming a slight tune as she grabbed at a nearby low hanging branch, pulling off a couple of leaves.
“Galen, it’s almost been a week since the battle, and you haven’t spoken one word about it to me,” said Lexine as she rubbed the leaves in her hands.
“What do you want to know?” asked Galen.
“Did you enjoy it?”
“Enjoy it? No, of course not. I doubt many people enjoy being in a battle, hurting and killing others.”
“But you did kill others, didn’t you?”
“I did,” said Galen as they walked over to the pond slowly. “I had never done so before, but when it came time to do it, I stabbed a man with no hesitation.”
“It was your training, I suppose, that, and you knew if you didn’t stab him, he would kill you.”
“Yes, both of those things. I found that while I didn’t enjoy it, I was capable of fighting and doing what I had to do to save myself, others, and defend the kingdom,” said Galen as they started to walk off the path and around the pond.
“But you like healing better, don’t you? It is better to serve the kingdom by helping others than having to kill enemies, isn’t it?”
Galen was quiet as he thought this over. He did enjoy healing. He liked the challenge of figuring out what was wrong with someone and finding a way to help, but he also knew how important being an Elite was. The kingdom depended on the Sentinel to keep its people safe. The Sentinel kept the royal family safe. It kept the princess safe.
“I do enjoy healing, but I think I would be very satisfied serving as an Elite. I could use my healing abilities as an Elite and fight for my kingdom.”
“Yes, I suppose you could.” Lexine dropped the leaves in her hands.
Galen looked over at her. She had a pouty frown on her face, and she seemed to be thinking things over in her head. He couldn’t help but smile a little. She was so very beautiful when she was puzzling things out inside her mind.
“Lexine, I want you to know that whatever I decide, I do so with you in mind. I know I have no right to do it or tell you this, but I find myself thinking of you in everything I do.”
Lexine stopped and took Galen’s hand. He turned to face her. “I think you do have the right because I think of you in everything I do as well. I want you to be happy, Galen, and if serving in the Sentinel is what makes you happy and fulfilled, you should do it.”
“If I choose the Sentinel, I will probably do so for the wrong reasons, at least partially. I want to serve my kingdom in some way, but mostly I just want to be able to keep you safe. Once again, I am probably overstepping, telling you this, but I can’t help it. I have already begun to think of you as mine to keep safe.”
“And I already think of you as my Galen,” said Lexine with a small smile. “You should know now that I have claimed you, you won’t get rid of me. You could be the greatest, richest healer in the world, an Elite of the Sentinel, or a farmer, and I would find a way to be by your side in the end.”
“Is that right?” asked Galen pulling Lexine close to him.
“Yes, you will never be rid of me. I do not lose things that belong to me.”
“Good, because I don’t want to be lost,” said Galen as he leaned down and kissed her.
Galen walked across the field towards the Fortress from the woods. As he approached the Fortress, he was met by the High Captain. She smiled at him as she walked up. Galen was glad to see her walking around in her usual uniform, looking as she always did, though he could still see a sense of tiredness around her eyes.
“Novice Galen, would you mind walking with me for a moment? I have something I wish to discuss with you.”
“Yes, High Captain, I will be happy to walk with you.” He fell into step next to her as they walked back towards where Galen came.
“First, I wanted to thank you for all you did to help me after the battle. I understand you and Lexine worked very hard to keep me alive until Princess Lilith could be persuaded to heal me. I heard it was your idea to ask the Navalians.”
“I only did what any healer would do, especially one who belonged to the Sentinel. You are my High Captain, and I wanted to do all I could tell help you.” He paused for a moment. “I also know what you mean to my brother and Princess Lexine. I do not know you as well as they do, but I found that I would rather you not die. I am proud to serve under you in the Sentinel.”
Dracia nodded. “You are very impressive, Novice. I will not hide it. I could already ask you to take your final test and your vow to make you an Elite, and I don’t think it would be unfounded, but it might be a mistake for you.”
“How so?” asked Galen.
“You know the opportunities you have in front of you. You could make a name for yourself in the kingdom. If you chose that route, you might gain the ability to have other opportunities as well, some I believe that may bring you and someone else great happiness.”
“I don’t believe I would find happiness unless I am serving the kingdom and others as I feel I should. Everyone close to me knows this about me, and they have chosen to support me,” said Galen. “I know it does make certain things harder, but I have faith if I choose the right path, I will gain happiness for me and those I care about. The hardest paths usually have the greatest rewards. It takes walking up a steep, treacherously high mountain to see the most beautiful sunset.”
“Those are wise words, Novice, bold words as well,” said the High Captain. “I believe they are words I needed to hear myself.”
“They are true, and I live by them. I have never taken the easy route, and I believe it has served me well.”
“I would like to move you up to a level five novice, Galen, after your performance in the battle. I am moving many of the novices up. We will need new Elites soon. We lost 10 in the battle, and our numbers were already low. I will try not to move anyone up until they are truly ready, but we will start making serious decisions soon.
“As a level five, you will be expected to go out on missions as I see fit. I give you the chance now to leave the Sentinel with no ill will.”
“As I said, I am happy to serve the Sentinel and you, High Captain. I am honored you think I am ready to move up, and I will do whatever you need me to do.”
“Very well, Novice Galen, I will inform the Upper Elites of my decision. I appreciate your wiliness to serve,” said the High Captain as she turned to start walking back to the Fortress.
“Before we go back, can I speak with you about something else, High Captain.”
“Yes, Novice, feel free to speak as you wish.”
“I witnessed what you did in the battle outside of the palace with the stone wall. I have also heard about your Mystics by the stream. I have never seen or heard of anything like it. How did you do it?”
The High Captain smiled a little mischievously. “I figured it out on my own when I was younger. I once had more time to let my mind wander, and to push myself where I could. I had this need to better myself. I believe you can understand it.”
“When I began learning how to bind Mystics to runes for defense, I wondered what else I could bind Mystics to. I found myself trying to use my mind and will to bind Mystics to many things. I started with simple things like plants. I bound water to some growing flowers so they would not have to be watered during dry spells. I bound wind to some chimes so they would always make noise. I eventually moved on to attributes such as colors and shapes. I found it was much like binding Mystics to runes; it just took more concentration.
“Eventually, I got to the point where I could manipulate the elements with my Mystics and send them towards things based on their color, height, or shape. Luckily for us, all enemies in this battle were dressed as Gedonial soldiers, wearing yellow somewhere on their uniform. I simply concentrated and bound the Mystics I manipulated only to strike those wearing yellow.”
Galen stared at the High Captain for a moment. He had known she was powerful and wise, but he started to understand her true brilliance for the first time. “Could you teach me, do you think?” he asked without even thinking.
She stopped walking and looked at Galen. “You should know it is very hard work. It is exhausting, and it is dangerous. I shouldn’t have attempted to do it twice in one battle. Even without being poisoned I would have been ill and tired for a few days after. I almost did myself completely in with those two uses, but I saw no other way to end the battle without suffering horrible losses.
“If I agree to help you with this, you will do exactly as I tell you and only practice within my presence. It is dangerous to expend the amount of energy it takes to do this, and I almost drained myself to the point of death too many times as I learned.”
“I will do whatever you ask of me if you will take the time to teach me,” said Galen.
“I will teach you, Galen, or I will try,” said the High Captain. “Now, go inside and see your friends. I hope you learned the most important thing from your first battle.”
“What is that, Captain?”
“Life is short, and you never know how much time you have left. You should spend time with those you care about when you can. It is okay to take some time to enjoy yourself.”
Leal watched from the second floor as attendants moved trunk after trunk down the stairs to be loaded up on wagons to head back to Navalia and Siccaria. He felt very pleased this day had finally come. It had been two weeks since the battle in Winsdell, and Leal was very anxious for some of these visitors to be gone.
He would miss the Siccarians, but they would be leaving today directly after the Navalians. Lord Ethen and Lord Quain had both promised to keep in touch through messages, with the hope to meet again soon, depending on the situation with Navalia. He would miss Ethen especially, and he knew Dracia would as well. They had all three spent many evenings lately, usually with Roderick, trying to figure out the kingdom’s problems.
As the last trunk went down the stairs, Leal followed it, hoping that maybe Dracia might have arrived outside the palace. She would come to see the visitors off as the High Captain of the Sentinel. He would like to speak with her before the Navalians came outside to take their leave. He hoped to convince her to visit his rooms tonight since the palace would be empty of all guests.
“Prince Leal,” said Princess Lilith as she came down the stairs after him. “I would like you to take a quick walk with me outside the middle courtyard before I leave. I will be sitting so long for my trip back, and I want to stretch my legs first.”
Leal thought first to deny her and try to find Dracia, but he had a feeling she would follow him wherever he went. She would be gone soon, and he hoped never to see her again.
“I hope you will oblige me as my future husband. I have something I would like to show and tell you.”
“Of course, Princess Lilith, I will walk with you,” said Leal as he waited for her at the bottom of the stairs.
She walked to his side and looked up at him, seeming to wait for Leal to offer her his arm. He finally held it out to her, and she put her small pale hand on it. Leal led her down the hall and to the double doors of the courtyard. As they exited to the vast outdoor space, the princess let go of his arm and walked towards his mother’s roses.
“You must be an early riser, Prince Leal,” said the princess as she looked back at him.
“Why do you say it?” asked Leal, crossing his arms.
“One of my attendants said she saw you walking up the stairs this morning well before the seventh bell. I guess you went for an early morning ride to see the sunrise in the hills.”
Leal just looked at her as she continued to walk forward to the roses. She stopped and bent down, looking at the many flowers and buds on the bushes.
“At least it explains why you go to bed so early at night.” Lilith leaned forward and smelled a rose.
“What do you mean?” asked Leal.
“I went by your rooms not long after dinner last night to visit with you, and your attendant said you had already retired for the night,” said Lilith straightening back up.
“Yes, I did retire early last night. I found I could not wait to be in bed.”
It was not a lie. He was very anxious to be in bed last night. He did not have to say it wasn’t his bed he was anxious to lie in.
“I wonder if the High Captain also enjoys sunrise rides in the hills.” Princess Lilith touched one of the roses, causing it to wilt and fall from the bush to the ground.
Leal said nothing. He continued to stand still with his arms crossed, watching Lilith.
“I imagine a woman like her must be very disciplined, going to bed early and rising with the sun,” said Lilith as she looked down at the wilted rose on the ground and stepped on it with the heel of her boot.
Leal continued to stay silent.
“She is obviously a very dedicated High Captain to your Sentinel. I have heard of her bravery and skills during the battle. I will admit she is an impressive woman. I can almost understand my brother’s fascination with her.”
Leal closed his eyes and brought his hands to his side. He pushed down his anger that flared within him, thinking of Prince Fannar being anywhere near Dracia.
“I look forward to getting to know her better, especially when she visits Navalia for the blessing of our betrothal. I’m sure it will be easy. She and I do share a special bond now.” Lilith touched a closed bud, causing a beautiful rose to bloom.
Leal looked at Lilith questionably. “You share a bond?”
“I left a large amount of my Navalian magic within her when I healed her. It leaves a link between us,” said Lilith as she looked at the flower she had just opened. It started to wilt as she stared at it. “I believe the High Captain and myself are very bonded now. It is a good thing I have decided to be her friend. If I had any feelings of displeasure with her, it could go very badly, very quickly.” Lilith took her eyes off the rose and it reopened, growing full and beautiful once more.
Leal’s eyes grew wide as he realized what Princess Lilith was saying. “Don’t,” he whispered. “Please, don’t hurt her.”
Lilith laughed. “I would never hurt anyone so important to your kingdom. I know you are fond of your old friend. I was merely illustrating the strength of my bond with her.” She walked up to Leal. “It is an interesting bond, though. I could share it with someone else with the Navalian gift.”
Lilith walked past Leal headed to the double doors of the palace. She turned as she opened the door. “Perhaps, I will share it with my brother. His birthday is soon, and I am sure he would appreciate such a precious gift.”
Leal looked at the princess in revulsion, but she seemed to take no notice.
“If you ever hear from your mother, let her know how much I enjoy her roses. I have my own personal garden at home with the most unusual plants. I will be happy to get back to it.”
Lilith walked into the palace, leaving Leal breathing heavily in the courtyard. He looked back at the rose Lilith had just opened to watch it shrivel slowly and die, falling to the ground. He stood still for a moment, unable to move; he was so filled with horror and fury.
He gathered himself after a moment and walked back into the palace and out to the front. He saw Dracia was standing by Roderick and Darron, speaking with Lord Ethen, laughing at something Ethen had said.
“There you are, Leal,” said King Rommel as Leal walked out close to the Navalian carriages and wagons. “Come say farewell to your betrothed and her father.”
Leal walked over to Princess Lilith, who stood next to the largest carriage. His father next to her, looking bored.
“Goodbye, your majesty,” said Leal as he bowed to King Arnar. “I hope your trip is safe and swift.”
“Thank you, Prince Leal,” said Arnar. “I am very satisfied with our visit. I look forward to seeing you in a few months.”
“Yes, my prince,” said Lilith. “I am glad we will not be apart long. I will be happy to have you in Navalia. I hope nothing causes any delay in you coming to Navalia. I would be seriously displeased.”
Lilith looked over Leal’s shoulder and tilted her head. Leal turned to see Dracia put her hand to her head and sway slightly.
“Captain, are you okay?” asked Ethen with concern as he grabbed her gently, steadying her.
“Yes,” said Dracia, slightly shaking her head. “I’m not sure what came over me, but I am fine.”
Leal turned and looked to Lilith, who was staring at him with her eyebrow raised. “I will see you soon, won’t I, my prince?”
“Yes, I will see you in Navalia in a few months as planned,” said Leal in agitation.
“Until then,” said Lilith holding out her hand.
Leal took her hand and gave it a tight squeeze. He bent down to kiss it, but she took it away before his lips could come in contact with her skin. She turned and entered her carriage, followed by her father. Leal walked back to stand next to Ethen as the carriage rolled away. He saw a blonde woman he had seen before peek out of the carriage window and look at him, making him feel uneasy for some reason.
As the carriage rolled out of sight, Leal turned to look at Dracia, Roderick, and Ethen noticing Darron had walked away to speak with a nearby palace guard.
“I am anxious to get home, but I will miss some things about your kingdom, Prince Leal,” said Ethen.
“You mean the companionship of our High Captain, I imagine,” said Leal smiling at Dracia.
“Yes, that will be the thing I will miss the most, but I will also miss you, as well as a few others. I wish you could be present at my wedding.”
“I do so as well, but it will be too close to our trip to Navalia,” said Leal, quietly. “As much as I do not want to go, I am afraid it seems that trip is more and more likely.”
“Is it?” asked Ethen with concern.
Leal nodded. “I can’t explain here, but I will send you a message soon. I believe we have some complications.”
Dracia looked at Leal with worry.
“We will figure it out,” he said as he moved closer to Dracia. He looked at her closely, examining her neck. “Are you not wearing your locket?”
“No,” she said with a sigh. “It was not by choice. The clasp on the chain broke sometime in the night.”
“Bring it to me tonight when you come to see me at the palace, and you will come to our rooms. You will not argue with me,” said Leal whispering to her. “I will see it fixed tomorrow, and you must wear it at all times.”
Dracia looked at Leal with a furrowed brow.
“I will explain tonight. Please, just trust me, and do as I ask.”
She nodded as Leal leaned back from her seeing that Lady Elise was coming towards them.
“My dear, High Captain,” she said, walking up to Dracia and taking her hand. “I have enjoyed getting to know you. I hope you will visit Siccaria one day. I think you would find much enjoyment from a visit there.”
“I am sure I would, my lady,” said Dracia smiling at the old woman. “I told Ethen I hope very much to meet his betrothed someday.”
“Yes, I think you would like her and she you. You are both extraordinary women.”
“That they are, grandmother,” said Ethen smiling.
“High Captain, I hope you know if you ever find you need any assistance or support, you will always find it in me and Siccaria. If things ever become too much here, or you need a place for rest and safety, you will be welcomed in the Aurorial Palace.”
Dracia squeezed the old woman’s hand. “That means a lot to me.”
“I mean it, my dear. You could even bring your prince if you have to.”
Ethen laughed. “Come on, grandmother, your carriage is pulling up, and you need to say farewell to the king.”
“Goodbye, dear Captain,” said Lady Elise as she held Dracia’s hand for a moment longer before slowly letting it go. “Prince Leal, I expect you to look after her.”
“I will, my lady. Safe travels back to Siccaria.”
Lady Elise nodded and started walking towards her carriage.
“The High Captain is strong and just,” said Ethen looking at Dracia.
“The Sentinel stands true,” said Dracia with a smile as Ethen took her hand. “Goodbye, my lord.”
“Goodbye, Captain.” Ethen kissed her hand and let it go.
“I will expect a message soon, Prince Leal. We will find a way forward.”
“We will,” said Leal as he held out his hand to Ethen. Ethen took it and shook it before letting it go.
“Goodbye, Roderick,” said Ethen. “Keep watch over your High Captain.”
“I always do. Safe travels, my lord.”
Ethen walked to join his grandmother and father in their carriage, stopping to bow to the king.
Leal stood next to Dracia as they watched the Siccarian party leave.
The hills of Winsdell had many tales they could tell. They could tell stories of a king who would sneak off to learn of his kingdom’s future from a foreteller. They could tell of a worried mother who wished her sons had chosen different paths. They could tell of a young princess who would walk the hills with her new young lover, finding time to just be with him. They could tell all these tales and more, but just like the people who lived there, the hills would speak of the Sentinel of Cassendar and its High Captain if they could really tell stories.
They would weave a tale of a young High Captain who served her kingdom well. They would speak of her bravery amid a fierce battle. They would tell a tale that seemed too wonderous to be accurate, as they spoke of her skills, manipulating water and stone like no other.
Though the end of her tale wasn’t known, the hills would yearn to say she lived long and well. The hills would like nothing more than to say her tale ended with her leading her kingdom not as the High Captain but as a glorious queen. They would wish to say her story was one with a happy ending, but the truth was, her end was not known. The hills like the High Captain herself would have to wait and trust all would be well.
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