Dracia lay in her bed sound asleep curled up against her prince as he held her. She had tried to tell him not to come to her room that night. Tomorrow would be an early day as they would start their travel, but he would not stay away from her. They would leave for Navalia tomorrow, and their nights together could be limited. She was actually glad he had come. As they got closer and closer to being in the presence of Princess Lilith, Dracia found she became somewhat possessive of Leal.
She wasn’t proud of it. She would like to think she was above the jealousies other women had over their men, but when it came to the point, Dracia found she was just like other people, wanting to keep safe what she knew was hers. He was hers, she had no doubts. They belonged to one another, bound together by love, time, and promises she had no intention of breaking. Princess Lilith would never have Leal. Dracia would see to it. She would do whatever it took to make sure he was never under her power in anyway.
Dracia opened her eyes and pushed gently away from Leal. In the darkness of the room, she shivered, pulling the blankets up around her as she looked to make sure the fire still burned in her fireplace. It took her a moment to realize why she was so cold. Of course, Lilith would want to do something to her the night before they left to visit Navalia. Dracia could tell it would be an attack she would remember, something special from Lilith perhaps.
Dracia closed her eyes, ready to try what Galen had explained to her. She had spent some time that afternoon and evening examining the Navalian magic within herself. After searching for a while, she could feel it within, and she found Galen was right in that it was much like working with water Mystics. She was tempted to try to draw it out of her completely, but she was worried what it would do to her, or what Lilith would do to her if she thought her bond was slipping.
Dracia sat up in her bed and looked inside herself as she felt herself grow colder as her head started to spin. She could feel the magic within her more prevalent than before. She put her hands on her upper stomach, trying to feel the part that was attacking her, active as it caused her blood to run cold and her heart to race. She moved her hands slowly over her nightgown, feeling the magic within her start to respond to her movements. She concentrated, fighting against her spinning head and faintness that threated to overtake her.
“Dracia?” asked Leal sleepily next to her. He sat up slowly and reached out, touching her upper arm.
“No,” she said softly with her eyes closed. “Let me, I need to try.”
She felt Leal take his hand off her arm as she went back to manipulating the magic within her. She slowly caused the active part of the magic to rise away from what was left deep inside of her. Her heart raced faster as she caused the magic to rise to just below her skin. She thought her heart might burst from the effort it was putting forth, but she did not stop. She fought through the cold, the pain, and the sickness she felt to bring the magic out of her skin and into her hands. It felt cold, smooth, and slightly wet, as if she had picked up a sphere of ice from a lake.
She held it for a moment, turning it in her hands, feeling the power within it, the power to give life or take it away, to make things thrive or shrivel. It filled her with wonder, dread, power, and fear. She fought the urge to study it further, finding herself somewhat fascinated with what sat in her hands. Bringing it up and towards her chest, she focused on her locket and merging the magic with what lie locked in its center.
She felt something next to her reach out towards her. She realized it was the Cassendar power coming from Leal. It felt angry, and vengeful. It wanted what was in her hands. It wanted to destroy it completely. She moved the magic even closer to her locket and she felt the same power come from within that she felt coming her way from Leal. The power in her locket reached out further and encircled the sphere in her hands, wrapping around it. Dracia let it go as the power from the locket held it for a moment, before crushing it quickly, leaving a small mist in the air.
Dracia fell back against her bed with her eyes closed, exhausted but she could already tell her head was clear and her heartbeat was starting to find its normal rhythm.
“Dracia,” said Leal urgently leaning over her. “Are you alright?”
She opened her eyes and smiled at Leal. “I am.”
“It worked, didn’t it? I can tell it did,” said Leal slowly smiling at her.
“It did,” said Dracia with a small laugh. “I wonder if Lilith could tell how her attacked failed. I shouldn’t want her to know I can combat her, but part of me hopes she knows she doesn’t have as much power over me as she thinks she does.”
Leal leaned down and kissed Dracia as she put her arms around him.
“King’s gods, I’m going to have to make Galen a lord for doing this for you,” said Leal as he pulled back.
“You will not take away my best novice no matter how thankful you are, your highness,” said Dracia giving him a playful shove against his shoulder.
“When you are queen, and he is on our council, you will think differently, my love,” said Leal moving down towards her again.
“Perhaps, but I don’t want to spend the few hours we have left before we leave arguing,” said Dracia as she again put her arms around Leal.
“Do you have an idea of what you would like to do?” he asked as he bent down and kissed her neck.
“I think you already have the gist of it,” said Dracia with a sigh.
The next morning, Dracia found herself upon Aarit dressed in her High Captain Uniform, her fur lined cloak attached at her neck. Aarit stood by the king’s carriage in front of the palace as they awaited the royal family. Roderick was across from her, looking around on his own horse. He gave her a quick smile as she looked at him before looking across the way with a frown at Darron.
Dracia could tell things had gotten frostier between Darron and Roderick. They never did get along well, but lately casual dislike had seemed to grow to downright hatred. Roderick watch Darron as though he expected to have to throttle him at any time. Darron looked at Roderick as if he would like nothing more than to find a reason to engage in in some way. It was something she would have to deal with, perhaps even on this trip, but she could keep them a part the best she could. It could not be helped. She could not get rid of Darron, not with the support he had with some Upper Elites, and she could not leave him to his own devices at the Fortress while she was away.
Dracia looked all around to see many lords and ladies standing around their carriages and horses, waiting for the royal family to join them so they could leave on their trip. Her fifteen Elites she was bringing on the trip were spaced out amongst the travelers ready to embark. They had planned to get to the Lord of Awbrey’s estate by nightfall. Dracia hoped there would be room for all the lords, ladies, and her Elites that were traveling so they would not have to set up camp the first night.
“Good morning, sister,” said Colm as he walked up to Dracia.
“Good morning, Colm, I hope you left your wife and children well,” said Dracia.
“It was hard to say goodbye to them, but it is the right thing. They will do better safe and warm here than on a cold road to a strange kingdom.”
Dracia nodded, feeling she agreed more than she could say that her sister, niece, and nephew would be much safer in Winsdell than Navalia.
“Will you go the whole way in the carriage, Colm?” asked Dracia.
“No, I hope to ride much of the way. I told father I would join him and mother in the king’s carriage this morning, but hopefully after lunch I can ride on horseback. I hope you will keep me company when you can. I feel we have much to catch up on,” said Colm.
“I will be glad of your company on the road,” said Dracia. She looked behind Colm as her father and mother walked up.
“Mother, Father,” said Dracia with a nod from Aarit.
“Good morning, my dear,” said her father looking up at her. “Do you plan to ride on horseback the whole way?”
“I do,” said Dracia. “I will need to keep watch as we travel.”
“But you have all your Elites here with you,” said her mother. “I hope if you will not tire yourself out. I would hate to see you fall ill again.”
“I know my own strength, mother. I spend much of every day on horseback.”
“And riding astride of course,” said her mother with a loud sigh. “I suppose there is no changing who you are now.”
“No, and I would not want to change who I am,” said Dracia.
“Of course, you wouldn’t,” said her father. “I am sure your mother just worries after your health as all mothers do.” Her father took her mother’s arm. “Come along, Owena, I am sure the king will be coming out any moment.”
They moved closer to the door of the palace with her brother as an attendant brought Leal’s horse close to Dracia with Malven walking along beside him. Malven looked up at Dracia and bowed, her giving him a bow and a small smile in return. The palace doors open, and the king walked out with Leal and Lexine behind him. He greeted Dracia’s father, mother, and brother and walked to large royal carriage.
“Leal, are you not joining us?” asked his father.
“No, father, you know I do not do well in a carriage when we travel. It has always made me feel unwell. I will ride as much as I can,” said Leal coming up to stand by his horse.
Malven handed Leal some gloves, and the prince quickly put them on, before mounting his horse. The king looked at his son, but said nothing as he entered his carriage, followed by Lexine and Dracia’s family.
“High Captain,” said Leal in greeting. “I hope you are well rested this morning.”
“I am not sure how rested I am, your highness, but I am in a particularly good mood,” replied Dracia with a very slight smile.
“I’m glad to hear it, as I shall depend on you and Roderick to keep me entertained on our trip.”
“I am not your court jester, your highness. I am not sure entertaining you is on my list of duties as your High Captain.”
“Maybe not,” said Leal quietly as he moved his horse close to hers. “But I find no one entertains me as well as you.”
“Is that so,” said Dracia as she moved Aarit around to face the way they would be going, circling around the prince. “Maybe it should be your turn to entertain me, then.”
She gave him a look, and then moved Aarit up to take her place alongside the king’s carriage.
“Teasing woman,” she heard the prince say behind her.
“What did you say, your highness?” asked Dracia as she glanced behind her.
“I said you always have been such a pleasant woman,” said the prince with a smile.
Dracia shook her head a little as the royal carriage started to move. She urged Aarit to follow and their caravan moved through the village and out to the west hills, to start their way north towards Navalia. They made their way through the hills on the main road that ran north and south through the kingdom. Dracia kept to the front of the caravan, often riding out ahead of the king’s carriage and its horses, looking for any threats on the road ahead or in the hills all around them.
“How are you feeling today, Dracia?” asked Leal as he rode up beside her. “You have recovered from last night?”
Dracia smiled for a second and thought to tease him, but she saw the concerned look on his face and relented. “I am well, your highness. I am suffering no ill effects from anything that happened last night.”
“I am glad to hear it. I hope to find young Galen soon and tell him my thanks,” said Leal.
Dracia nodded. “I let him know of the success of last night, and he seemed pleased.”
“Roderick, how are you?” asked the prince as Roderick rode closer to them.
“I am well this morning, your highness. I’ll admit to not looking forward to this trip, but I feel ready to face whatever we must.”
“I feel the same way, Roderick,” said Dracia. “I am ready to do whatever I have to do for our kingdom and the Cassendar family.”
“Then you will take care and watch yourself,” said Leal as he turned his head to look at her. “Whatever future this family has is very dependent on you.”
Dracia filled her cheeks with air before blowing it out. She didn’t feel like going over this with him again. She wanted nothing more than to believe she was Leal’s future. Her greatest dream was to be a part of the future of his family, but she could not be the first priority. His safety and the safety of his sister was all the Dracia cared about at the moment. She would see Lexine safe out of Navalia, and she would see Leal away from Princess Lilith once and for all by the time this trip was over. She was willing to do anything to make it so.
“Dracia, did you hear me?” asked Leal.
“I did, your highness,” said Dracia as she pulled up Aarit a bit. “We will be stopping for luncheon break soon. We should ride back closer to the carriages.”
“Are you really going to refer to me as your highness, this whole trip?” asked Leal as he slowed his horse to match Aarit’s pace.
“Since we are in such a public situation, yes, I will, your highness,” said Dracia with a small smile. “I might do it even if we find ourselves in a not so public situation, though you don’t seem to mind it as much then.”
Leal laughed. “Very well, High Captain, we will have to test what you say tonight.”
“You aren’t serious,” said Dracia giving him a dubious look.
“I am very serious. I know the Awbrey estate fairly well. I am sure I will be able to find you.”
“We are supposed to be going to your betrothal you know,” said Dracia quietly as the carriage moved closer to them. “You can’t be seen sneaking around at night to come see me.”
“And I will not be seen,” said Leal. “If you think I am going to stay away from you this whole trip, you must be mad. Unless you do not want me to come to you.”
Dracia frowned. She should tell him to stay away from her on this trip. It would be easier if he kept his distance for her to do what she might have to do, but she could not deny him. She didn’t want to be apart from him.
“I will always want you, your highness,” she said quietly as she moved over to ride near the carriage.
They stopped for a luncheon break, giving the horses time to drink water, and rest. Dracia hopped down off of Aarit and left him in the hands of some attendants after whispering to him. She checked in with her other Elites throughout the group to make sure all was going well.
“Darron, I trust all is well in your area so far?” asked Dracia walking up to her second.
“Yes, High Captain, it has been a very pleasant morning,” replied Darron with a smile.
“You seem in a good mood, Elite.”
“I am. I have been looking forward to this trip for a while. I enjoyed getting to know the Navalian royals and court when they visited us. I look forward to seeing them again.”
“As long as you remember your duty on this trip. You are not traveling for pleasure,” said Dracia.
“I always keep my duty to my kingdom in mind, High Captain. I think I will find much pleasure in doing what I have to for Lanoxan.”
Dracia looked at him curiously, not liking the words he used or his tone.
“High Captain,” said Roderick walking hurriedly up to her. “You should come eat before we leave. You have spent over half your time checking on everything. Come rest and eat before you have to ride out.”
Dracia turned to Roderick and nodded. “Darron, keep your position. Come find me if anything seems amiss.”
“Of course, Captain,” said Darron with a small bow.
“I should probably keep Darron close to me up front instead of you to keep an eye on him, but I cannot stand the man. I like him less and less every day,” said Dracia as they walked over to a grassy area by a tree.
“It is not my place to say it, but I do not want you alone with him, Captain. I do not trust him at all. I hope you will take my words in the way they were attended out of concern for you, and not in any way questioning your strength.”
“I know you always mean well, Roderick,” said Dracia smiling as they both sat down next to a small basket of food. “You must remember that I can take care of myself. I need you to particularly remember it on this trip.”
“I will try,” said Roderick as they both started to eat a small lunch.
After lunch Dracia found herself riding near her brother. She spent a pleasant afternoon hearing about his travels, as she told him about her time so far as High Captain. She left out how serious her injury from the battle really was, but she told him the rest.
“While I was out visiting grand estates, you were single handedly saving the kingdom,” said Colm with a laugh. “Like I said earlier, you always outshine me in every way.” .
“I did not single handedly save anything. I had plenty of help, and while you may have been visiting grand estates, I am sure you were making much needed contacts. In fact, I have been wanting to talk to you about those contacts.”
“Oh,” said Colm as Dracia looked around to find themselves mostly alone except for Roderick who rode nearby.
“Did you hear of any talk of uprisings against the Cassendars on your journey?”
“The four heavens, no,” said her brother with feeling. “If I had heard something like that, I would have written father and you immediately. There was some in the more northern areas who do not always speak well of our royal family, but it was just talk.”
“Talk can lead to other things, Colm. Can you remember what families talked badly of the king?”
“It wasn’t really anything, Dracia. I barely even registered it. You know how bored lords and ladies like to use words to spice up evenings. I am very sure it was nothing.”
“Please, Colm, can you think of any families in particular spoke ill of the Cassendars?”
“Well, for starters, you have one with you on this very journey. When I visited the north last spring, the Isadel’s seemed to delight in finding fault with the king and his son, especially Lady Isadel and her daughter.”
“That does not surprise me,” said Dracia knowing the lady was from Navalia. “I will have to keep an eye on them.”
“Do you really think some of the lords of the land are planning on overthrowing the king, Dracia?”
“I think there are those who are planning something, but I don’t know with who. We were attacked with a large force this summer, much larger than Gedeonia should have been able to provide. I would think Navalia was involved, but they seem to want to make an alliance with us by uniting their families.”
“If I can think of anything that was said I think was serious, I will let you know.”
Dracia nodded as she felt a cold shiver run through her body. It had been chilly all day, but this cold feeling ran all the way through her body to her bones. She could feel her head start to hurt. She quickly put her hand over her upper stomach and moved it slowly, looking for the activated magic inside of her. She sensed it quickly and worked to move it out of her skin and into her hand. As soon as it hit her hand her locket under her dress seemed to vibrate. A moment later, she felt the power from the locket grab the magic, surround it, and destroy it.
“Dracia, are you alright?” asked her brother with concern.
Dracia looked over at him with a smile. “I am very well, brother.”
They arrived at the Awbrey estate just after the sun had set. There was much activity and confusion as all the lords and ladies made their way into the very large home with their attendants and trunks. Dracia hung back with Roderick and her Elites as everyone settled. She then saw the head of household about accommodations for her Elites. They had to double up and triple up in one case, but there were rooms for all, though some were simple. The Elites didn’t mind, they were used to a simple lifestyle.
Dracia was then shown to a room much grander than she expected near most of the guest of the court.
“This can’t be right,” said Dracia to Roderick who helped her by carrying one of her cases into the comfortable bedroom.
“When it comes down to it, you are still Dracia Yates, the daughter of the highest lord of the kingdom. You should be treated as such,” said Roderick.
“I am above all the High Captain of the Sentinel,” said Dracia.
“And this room is appropriate for that high position as well,” said Roderick setting her case down.
“I do feel guilty staying here while the rest of you are crowded in,” said Dracia.
“We are hardly crowded in, and all of our rooms are very comfortable. I am only staying with Galen, and I have shared a room with him many times. You do not need to feel any guilt. We will all be spending nights outdoors on the road soon. Enjoy this comfort while you can,” said Roderick before leaving the room.
Dracia cleaned herself up, but kept on her High Captain uniform. She was on this journey to protect the royal family, and she would dress the part. After washing her face and hands and re-braiding her hair, Dracia walked downstairs to join the court for dinner.
“Dracia, my dear, why are you dressed so for dinner?” asked her mother as Dracia came into a large drawing room filled with the lords and ladies of the court.
“I am on duty, mother, I must be in uniform.”
“I hardly think the king is in any danger at dinner,” said her mother as she brushed some imaginary dust off of Dracia’s shoulder. “Black is such an awful color. It washes your complexion right out. You must feel like you are in perpetual mourning living in the Sentinel.”
“Not at all,” said Dracia. “I look down at my uniform, and I am reminded of my duty and the position I am privileged to serve. You may not understand anything about me, but that does not mean I am not happy.”
“I think I understand more about you than you know, Dracia. I may understand you more than you understand yourself,” said her mother before she turned and walked away to greet some lady and lord.
Dracia let out a small huff and considered skipping dinner and staying in her room. She knew it wasn’t really an option. She had to be amongst the traveling party, but she was tired, and her mother had just put her in an awful mood. It seemed her night would not improve as she saw the Nests and Isadels walking toward her.
“High Captain,” said Lord Nest with a small bow. “I don’t believe you have been formally introduced to the Isadels. I ask your apologies for not making the introductions sooner.”
“No apologies are needed, Lord Nest,” said Dracia with a curtsey of her own. “I know it has been rather busy with court events and preparations. I will be very pleased to make their acquaintance now.”
“Lord and Lady Isadel, this is Dracia Yates, the daughter of the High Lord of Lanoxan and the High Captain of the Sentinel of Cassendar.”
“It is an honor to mee you, High Captain,” said Lord Isadel looking Dracia up and down in a way she had come to expect from some men. “We have heard much about you.”
“Yes indeed,” said Lady Isadel looking Dracia over in a much different way than her husband. “I do find it very odd that a woman is leading the Sentinel.”
“It must be a common Navalian opinion, my lady. The Princess and Prince of Navalia were rather fascinated with the idea that a woman could lead a group of fighters.”
“The ladies of Navalia do not fight,” said Lady Isadel. “We are known to be very genteel. Not that you do not have courtly manners. I am sure your mother and father saw to your education and etiquette.”
“Yes, of course,” said Dracia. “My father also saw that I was able to fight and defend myself, which has come in handy with my position.”
“I understand my daughter has been in your presence, but I do not believe she has formally met you,” said Lady Isadel pointing to her daughter who was by Martin’s side as Martin talked with Galen.
“I have seen your daughter, my lady, but I have not spoken with her. I am sure I will have time to meet her on the journey. She looks much engaged with her intended and his friend at the moment.”
“Is the man there of your Sentinel?” asked Lord Isadel looking at Galen.
“Yes, he is one of my novices, my finest one actually. He will be an Elite soon if he chooses it. His brother is one of my seconds.”
“I would like to hear more about the Sentinel later, High Captain,” said Lord Isadel as he smiled at Dracia, moving closer to her. “Perhaps sometime on the trip, we could find time to visit.”
“We will see how the journey goes, my lord,” said Dracia as she curtsied again and walked away with a little shake of her head.
“What is wrong, High Captain,” said a quiet voice next to her. She turned to see Leal standing near a wall as he looked out at the room. Dracia stood next to him and crossed her arms.
“Are all lords so bored that they only think of getting young women alone?”
Leal gave a very small laugh. “You carry the burden of being a beautiful young woman. Tell me which old man I need to look sternly at to scare him away from you.”
Dracia smiled. “I do not need any stern looks from you to scare away men. Usually, my own intense gaze does the trick. If it doesn’t, me twisting one of their wondering hands behind their back makes them rethink any ideas they might have of me.”
“You seem very spirited tonight,” said Leal with a grin. “I will definitely have to see that you are well settled in your room later.”
“If you think you can handle my spirited mood that is,” said Dracia. “You will have to watch yourself, or you might find your own arm behind your back.”
“You should make sure and go to bed early, High Captain. We have a long journey ahead of us,” said Leal as he started to walk away. He glanced back at her, and she swore his eyes flashed bright green for just a moment.