Roderick looked out over the hills of Winsdell atop his horse. He breathed in the fresh morning air and glanced over to his right to see his High Captain on her pure black horse staring into the distance. Roderick watched her for a moment, wondering what she was thinking.
Dracia Yates was not always an easy person to read. Roderick had learned that quickly when they attended the Disciplines together. He wasn’t sure why, as she wasn’t quiet or shy. She spoke her mind with the ease of someone born to power and taught by the best tutors in the kingdom. She was never unkind or even unfriendly. When he first met her, Roderick liked her instantly.
He had known her a little, of course, from court events, but they were so distant in terms of power and wealth that Roderick had never talked to her much. Every time he had seen her at court events, she was always in the company of the Crown Prince or the princess. Roderick knew as much about her at that point as most of those in the lower court. She was witty and brilliant. She was beautiful, and some said she was cold as ice.
As Roderick got to know her, he agreed with the first three immediately. It was obvious why she was higher ranked going into the Disciplines than any other novice. Her use of Mystics was beyond what Roderick had ever seen. She was as competent of a horseman or horsewoman that could be found. She was quick, skilled with a sword and knife throwing, and she was probably the smartest person Roderick had ever met besides his little brother.
She was not cold, not once you got to know her. She did come off as above it all sometimes, but Roderick thought that was just the shield she put around her. She had insecurities she didn’t want most people to know about. Her mother never did approve of her, and it hurt Dracia deeply. She was walking into a mostly man’s world, and she was a young, beautiful woman. She had to appear tough and aloof at times. Above all, Dracia had a secret she needed to hide from almost everyone.
Roderick knew her secret. He learned of it long before she was the High Captain. He and Dracia grew close as they worked their way up to Elites. For some reason, she had picked him as her constant companion during the Disciplines. Roderick didn’t complain. She was helpful to him.
He knew he only rose as high as he did because of Dracia’s help during the Disciplines. She helped Roderick improve his Mystics and his swordsmanship. She assisted him with the court and the Upper Elites by helping him learn how to talk to the right people. She helped him develop his charm and his ease. He owed her much, and he knew it.
It was because of his close relationship with Dracia that he learned her secret early on. The Crown Prince had come to train in the Disciplines the same year as Roderick and Dracia. It was not unusual. The princes of Cassendar usually spent a season or two with the Sentinel when they were young. It helped them build rapport with their Sentinel.
Roderick noticed that the prince watched Dracia at all times. They also seemed to be careful not to show each other too much attention. A few friendly chats could be expected. They did grow up close together after all, but Roderick could sense something between them. He doubts anyone else did. Roderick had always been good at observing people. He was good at reading moods, and he knew there was more than meets the eye to Dracia and the prince’s relationship.
It wasn’t revealed all to Roderick until Roderick noticed the prince started watching Roderick as well. He was never unkind to Roderick, but his eyes followed Roderick closely especially when Roderick was by Dracia’s side. One day they were split up in pairs for sparring with swords, and Roderick was paired with the prince.
They started in the usual way, going through the stances and strikes they were taught.
“You are Roderick Ellis, aren’t you?” asked the Prince as they struck swords. “The second son of the late Lord Ellis of Low Hill, correct?”
“Yes, your highness,” said Roderick as he turned and stuck, hitting the prince’s sword.
The prince smiled. “You know you can call me Leal out here. We are supposed to be equal.”
“I suppose we are, but that doesn’t make it so. You are still the Crown Prince, and I am still the second son of a lower lord. Our matching training outfits and rough sparring swords won’t change it.”
“Very true,” said the prince as he advanced on Roderick as they moved to a more freestyle part of their sparing. Roderick blocked his move, and the prince retreated for a moment.
“Where else but here in the Disciplines would someone of your rank even presume to start a friendship with Dracia Yates,” continued Leal as he circled Roderick.
Roderick narrowed his eyes slightly and advanced on the prince. The prince blocks his attack and turned, holding his sword at his side for a moment. He studied Roderick before advancing again.
“I feel very fortunate to have meet Dracia,” said Roderick. “She has been a good friend to me and very helpful in the Disciplines.”
“She seems to enjoy your company as well,” said the prince as he plunged his sword at Roderick. Roderick blocked and sliced his sword at the prince, who ducked and retreated.
They both stood apart, breathing heavily, and looked at each other for a moment before they started circling again.
“What do you two do when you are together? I mean after Disciplines are done for the day,” asked the prince as he circled Roderick.
“We study. She helps me with my Mystics and swordsmanship. We go out to the local tavern with the other novices and have a drink. Things that most real novices do.”
The prince narrowed his own eyes and gave Roderick a small sideways smile. “And after these nights of drinking and merriment, do you walk her home like a proper son of a lord?” asked the prince before he lunged at Roderick quickly. Roderick barely had time to raise his sword, but he did block the prince’s move. He walked backwards in little steps to regain his footing.
Roderick looked at the prince and said, “You seem like you are going somewhere with this conversation, so I wish you would just get to it. Say what you want to say, your highness.”
Roderick moved forward and made several moves towards the prince. The prince blocked each one and then turned away from Roderick. When he turned back, he moved towards Roderick, striking hard. Roderick moved back while blocking
“Dracia Yates is the daughter of the highest lord of this land. She may be here for the time being, but one day she will move on. She is too good, too beautiful, and too brilliant to waste her life here at the Sentinel. You should remember it.”
Roderick struck back at the prince. “She has chosen to train to become an Elite. She has told me she wants nothing more. I am guessing she knows her own mind better than you.”
The prince smiled rather nastily at Roderick. He suddenly moved swiftly. He thrust his sword at Roderick, and Roderick was barely able to block it before the prince struck again and again. He moved his sword up and disarmed Roderick, pushing Roderick on the ground with his shoulder. He stood over Roderick with his sword paced by Roderick’s throat.
“I yield,” said Roderick looking up at the prince.
The prince bent down very close to Roderick. Roderick looked into the prince’s eyes to see them a bright green.
“You should remember your place, Roderick Ellis,” he said quietly. “Whatever you think you have with Dracia, you would best end it now, for your own sake.”
Roderick looked up at the prince and almost said what he was thinking which wouldn’t have been a good idea, when they both heard a loud sigh. They turned to see Dracia staring at both of them. Roderick studied the prince as he stared at Dracia. She turned and walked away quickly towards the Fortress.
“Damn,” said the prince.
Roderick could see his eyes were back to their normal hazel. The prince turned without a second thought to Roderick and walked immediately towards where Dracia had fled. Roderick knew right away what was going on. The prince had stuck out at Roderick as only a man possessed with jealousy could. He had looked at Dracia as though she held his very heart in her hands.
Roderick blinked his eyes, coming out of his memories, and noticed his High Captain was staring at him. He moved his horse closer to her.
“Did Darron not want to come out with us this morning?” he asked.
“No, he said he wished to remain at the Fortress until the novices arrive. I think he might have been hungover.”
“You didn’t offer him anything for it?” asked Roderick with a slight smile.
“No, I did not. If he was out drinking too much, he should pay the consequences for it. Besides, he should have had some elixir on hand already for such a time if he planned on overindulging in drink. An Elite is always prepared, after all.”
“Are you worried about today, Captain?” asked Roderick. “You seem ill at ease if you don’t mind me saying so.”
“No, I don’t mind it, and you can call me Dracia out here by ourselves, Roderick. We have been friends for a long time now.”
“We have, but I like to give you your due. You are my High Captain, and I will treat you as such.”
Dracia smiled at him. “I appreciate your support Roderick, but I don’t want to lose the friendship we have either. I hope you will indulge me sometimes and still call me Dracia.”
“Very well, Captain. I will call you Dracia when we are alone if you command it.”
Dracia sighed and looked at Roderick as Roderick broke out into a wide grin. She laughed at him and shook her head.
“Now what are you fretting about, Dracia?” asked Roderick. “You aren’t worried about the Disciplines, are you? You have led many training sessions, and most of the work can be done by other Elites. I am sure we will find at least a few worthy novices.”
“I am not worried about the Disciplines. They have been going on for almost two thousand years. I don’t think even I could mess that up if I tried. We will find what we find with the novices. We cannot control it.”
“Then what is troubling you, my friend. I can tell it something.”
“I think you can guess what is troubling me. You must have heard the news from the palace. I imagine we will be needed to soon to attend to all the guests who are coming. You know how guests love to meet with the Upper Elites of the Sentinel. I have a feeling I will be something of a curiosity.”
“I did hear the king is on the lookout for a wife for his son,” said Roderick carefully. He looked around to make sure they were alone. He moved as close to Dracia as he could on his horse and said quietly, “I know this can’t be easy for you.”
“No, it is not, but maybe it will help me finally face reality. I should have put him off long ago.”
“He is not an easy man to put off,” said Roderick patting his horse soothingly. “No man that loves a woman as much as he loves you would be easy to put off.”
Dracia shrugged. “I do believe he loves me, but I know who he is. I know what is expected of him by his father. If you want to speak of men who are not easy to put off, you should mention the king.”
“Why is the king so against you? You should be high born enough for a Crown Prince. You are practically royalty yourself.”
“I am not sure. I only know the king has told me to leave his son alone. I believe he has very lofty plans for the prince. I think he wants to make an alliance with one of the nearby kingdoms. That worries me for other reasons. I don’t want to go to war with our lower numbers.”
“War? Have you heard rumblings of war?” asked Roderick.
“No, not really. I know that Navalia has been growing in power. The Navalian kings of the past have always looked to Lanoxan with jealousy. They seemed to have formed an alliance with the nobles of Siccaria in recent years. A few lower Siccarian nobles have married those connected with the Navalian royalty. If they truly join together against us, it could get interesting.”
“I understand the King of Navalia has a daughter of marriageable age,” said Roderick.
“Yes, which is why the royal family of Navalia will be a guest in the palace this summer, as well as the nobles of Siccaria.”
“And you will have to attend many court events with all these visiting nobles and royals in attendance, won’t you?” asked Roderick.
“Yes, of course, the king has already commanded me to come. You and Darron will have to go as well,” said Dracia. She paused for a moment. “The king has asked me to see to the security of the princess of Navalia myself.”
Roderick let out a puff of air. “He would be as cruel as that?” asked Roderick.
“He wants to drive home the point that I should step aside and leave his son alone. I believe he thinks I will pale in comparison to the reputed beauty of the princess from Navalia.”
“He is a fool then, Dracia,” said Roderick quietly. She looked at Roderick with a sad smile.
“She is of old magical blood. She can connect with the prince in ways I cannot understand. I am not blind to the realities that she is much more suitable for the prince than I could ever be,” said Dracia as she turned and looked out over the fields.
Roderick wished he could say something comforting to her. He wished he could reassure her that the prince loved her beyond what any magical bond could do, but he knew it would do no good.
Dracia shook her head and smiled. “I do not wish to spend this pleasant morning, pining over some future with a man I can probably never have. I have much to look forward to. I have a purpose in this kingdom, and I will serve that purpose.”
Roderick nodded. “You do have many purposes, High Captain. I am looking forward to the Disciplines this year. I think we have a very interesting crop of novices coming in.”
“We do indeed, especially your little brother. I am rather anxious to see how it works with him juggling the Royal Academy and Disciplines. I do worry what some of the other novices will say. It could put a target on Galen’s back.”
“Galen won’t mind. He isn’t bothered by talk or harsh words. He also already has a friend coming with him to Disciplines, and one attending the Royal Academy.”
“Good,” said Dracia as she urged her horse to start walking. “I do hope he can find more, maybe someone who can corrupt him a bit as I did you.”
“Corrupt me?” asked Roderick as he rode alongside her. “When did you corrupt me?”
“Roderick, you were as silent as a stone and looked as lost as a young man’s coin when you came to Disciplines. Why do you think I befriended you so quickly? I should have kept to myself, but I couldn’t just stand by and watch you flounder,” said Dracia fondly. “You were a quick learner though. I think you could drink me under the table twice now.”
Roderick chucked. “We will have to see if that is true soon. I am sure you could use a night away from the Fortress and court.”
“You are right; I believe we both could. We will have to shadow our new novices on one of their nightly escapades. We will make sure we are not close enough to them to ruin their fun, but close enough to see what mischief they get up to.”
“If I can see Galen participate in one bit of mischief, I should be very satisfied,” said Roderick. “I’m not sure it can be done.”
“That sounds like a challenge,” said Dracia smiling. “I think I will have to find someone to make sure your little brother gets into plenty of mischief.”
Dracia clicked her heels and her horse shot off. Roderick smiled before following after her.