Leal sat unhappily in the royal carriage with his father and sister. He felt miserable as he bounced around in the enclosed space, feeling both trapped and warm. His father had insisted that he ride in the carriage as it looked like rain. Leal looked out the window and saw that the clouds did look very dark. He tilted a bit in his seat to see if he could spot Dracia on Aarit, but she was not in view. As cold as it was outside, Leal would much rather be out in the coming rain than stuck in the carriage staring at his father. Outside he could find ways to ride with Dracia ahead of the carriage and out of view of everyone. He could speak with her and hear her tease him.
He had missed her the past two days. He had not been able to be with her at night since their stay at the Awbrey estate. They had stayed the past two nights in smaller manor houses, while the Sentinel camped on the grounds. Dracia had been offered a room at each place, but she had refused, wanting to stay with her fellow members of the Sentinel.
During the day, her brother or father had taken to riding next to her as they traveled, leaving Leal little time to spend with Dracia. It had put him in a very bad mood, which his sister had pointed out to him this morning. He looked at Lexine who was sitting next to his father. She gave him a small smile that seem to understand his anxiousness.
“Father,” said Leal as he looked out the window. “We will be passing close to Westmoria tomorrow afternoon.”
“Yes, and we will take a two day break at the Lord of Westmoria’s estate when we get there. I need to speak with him about the sickness that ran through the area villages this past summer. I hear some towns were quite decimated,” said his father has he took a long swig from a flask he held.
“I see why you need to speak with him, but why are we not stopping at the summer palace? It is just outside of Westmoria.”
“You know your mother doesn’t need the stress of having so many people invade her quiet space,” said the king. “I do not want to disturb her.”
“Then why don’t we just go. We don’t have to stay long, but I would love to see mother. It has been too long. You must long to see her as well, father. I know you haven’t seen her in well over two years.”
“Oh yes, father, let us go,” said Lexine looking at the king. “I miss her very much.”
“No, we do not have time on this trip. After you are married, Leal, you can stop on your wedding trip and introduce your mother to your bride,” said the king as he took another long drink.
“I would rather go now,” said Leal. “I don’t understand why we can’t go.”
“I will not go, and that is final. Your mother has no desire to see me, and I have little to see her if you must know. She has been so ill in body and mind for so long, I doubt she would recognize any of us anyway,” said his father harshly. He went to take another drink when he realize his flask was empty. He cursed and looked through a bag at his feet.
Leal looked at his sister who had moved away from their father. She had tears in her eyes as she looked at the king in horror.
“Is it as bad as that?” she asked quietly.
The king sat up with a new flask in his hands and nodded. “The latest reports from the attendants in the castle say she rarely rises out of bed, and doesn’t know where she is. I don’t know how much longer she has, but I would rather remember her as the woman I knew, not a shadow of herself,” said the king before he took a drink.
“I would like to see for myself,” said Leal. “I can ride over tomorrow afternoon, see mother, spend the night, and then go on to meet you at the estate in Westmoria.”
“No, you will not go,” said the king. “It would not be safe for you to travel alone.”
“I want to go as well,” said Lexine looking at Leal. “So, he would not be alone.”
“You both cannot be out riding unprotected traveling on roads you are not used to,” said the king.
“I will talk to the High Captain and see that she send some Elites with us. I will see if she will go herself. I will ask her to bring her young novice with us. He is already known for his healing abilities, and I would like him to look at our mother.”
Lexine perked up further at Leal mentioning Galen coming with them. “I think that is a good idea. I know Galen Ellis is quite brilliant, and I am sure Dracia will see us there safely.”
The king shook his head after taking a drink.
“Will you really forbid us from seeing our own mother?” asked Leal. “Even if you try, you will not be able to do it. Lexine and I will go tomorrow afternoon, and if you try to stop us you will cause nothing but a scene as we will go no matter what.”
“You will not like what you find, Leal. I am trying to protect you,” said the king.
“No, you are trying to control me like you always do, and look where it has gotten us. I am on my way to tie myself to a woman with no proper feelings, who I can’t stand the sight of.”
“You should not talk of your intended so,” said the king.
“Why not? It is the truth. She is a vile woman who I would not wish on anyone.”
“You should think better of her since she will be your wife no matter what at this point. You have made a promise to her, and that is that.,” said the king.
Leal raised his fist and knocked on the top of the carriage three times loudly. The carriage slowed down and rolled to a stop. “You know nothing of the promises I have made, and I will keep the ones that really matter. I am going to ride outside even if it does rain. Will you join me Lexine or perhaps you would like to ride with the Yates? I am sure they would enjoy your company.”
Leal opened the door as Lexine nodded and said, “I will ride for a bit. I have a warm cloak, and I am tired of being cooped up.”
“Good, you can come speak to the High Captain with me about our trip tomorrow,” said Leal. He looked at his father who had his mouth opened. “I know you will not stop us so save your breath.”
Leal stepped out, and then extended his hand to help Lexine out of the carriage. Malven had stepped out of the attendant’s carriage a few behind and met Leal as Dracia rode up.
“Is everything alright, your highness?” asked Dracia with concern.
“Yes, the princess and I would just like to ride for a bit. Malven, can you see that both of our horses are brought forth immediately? I do not wish to hold us up for long.”
Malven nodded and walked quickly to a carriage where Lexine and Leal’s horse where tied up.
“I need to speak with you, High Captain,” said Leal looking up at Dracia. “I have a request to ask of you.”
“Oh, what is it you need?” asked Dracia.
“I will tell you when we start again,” said Leal as he watched his and Lexine’s horses be brought to them. “If you will go collect Galen Ellis, I need to speak with him as well.”
Dracia looked surprised but she nodded and trotted off on Aarit. Leal helped Lexine to mount her gray mare, before jumping up on his own tall stallion. He adjusted himself in the saddle as Dracia rode back towards him with Galen right behind her. Leal looked at the driver of his father’s carriage and nodded. Soon the whole group was moving again at their slow pace.
“Let’s ride ahead a bit,” said Leal to the small group around him.
He gave his horse a small kick and trotted ahead of the horses that pulled his father’s carriage. Dracia rode by his side as Lexine and Galen followed close behind. Once they were a bit ahead of the lead carriage, they all slowed their pace, and Leal turned to Dracia.
“I would like to go visit the summer palace tomorrow afternoon to check on the queen. It is a little of our way, but we should make it there not too long after dark. Lexine will be going as well, and I am hoping you will escort us.”
“What does the king have to say about this plan?” asked Dracia.
“He does not like it, but he will not stop us. If you don’t feel comfortable going, you could send some of your Elites with us,” said Leal.
Dracia let out a small breath that Leal could see in the cold air. “No, if you and the princess are going to be away from the safety of the group, I should accompany you.”
Leal smiled. “I won’t lie and say I don’t prefer it if you go. I really do want to see my mother, but the thought of being with you for a few hours is rather nice as well.”
Dracia shook her head, but he could see a small smile on her lips. “You said you needed to speak with Galen as well?” she asked looking back at Galen and Lexine.
“Yes,” said Leal as he took looked back to see Galen and his sister whispering to one another. He slowed his horse slightly to fall back next to Galen, Dracia slowing to ride on Leal’s other side.
“Galen, Princess Lexine and I are planning to visit our mother tomorrow evening at the summer palace. We have heard reports that her illness is progressing, and that she is not doing well. I was hoping you would accompany us to see what your opinion is.”
“Would you rather not take Sarin, sir? I am sure he would be very willing.”
“I am sure he would, but my mother has seen several healers including Sarin, and no one has been able to help her. I know your mind works differently than anyone else’s. I would like you to check over her.”
“I will if you would like it, your highness, but I can’t promise anything. I haven’t even studied healing for a year.”
“You haven’t, but I am willing to be you have read enough books and studied enough to overfill the brains of some healers who have studied their whole lives.”
“I will go if you wish it, and try to do what I can, but I do not want to disappoint you,” said Galen.
“I only want your opinion, Galen. I do not expect you to work a miracle and cure her completely. I will not be disappointed in you if you find exactly what we have been told. I only want you to confirm it.”
“Please do come, Galen,” said Lexine. “I don’t know if you can help, but I would appreciate you being there with me when I see my mother. I am sure I will need your support.”
“Then I will come,” said Galen looking at Lexine. “I don’t believe I will be able to help much, but I will try.”
“Good, your High Captain will come as well,” said Leal. “Is there anyone else your think we should bring, Dracia?”
“I do not want to take any of my Elites away from the larger group or expose your mother to anyone except maybe Roderick, but I would like Roderick to stay with the group and keep watch. The four of us should be able to travel quietly and quickly. I don’t foresee us running into any trouble. I have seen none on the road.”
Leal nodded. “Then we will leave tomorrow after lunch. We will stay the night at the summer palace, and meet the group at the Lord of Westmoria’s estate the next day.”
As Galen and Lexine nodded to Leal, he turned to Dracia and moved his head forward, asking her to ride ahead with him. She looked behind her at the carriages before urging Aarit to go faster, as Leal did the same with his horse. The rode ahead until Leal looked back and could so no one behind them. He slowed his horse down as Dracia did the same, moving his horse very close to hers.
“I have missed you,” he said as they rode side by side. “I don’t like being away from you so much.”
“I have missed you too, but we need to get used to being apart. I am sure once we reach Navalia, we will rarely be alone.”
“I will find ways to be with you once we reach their palace. I don’t care who knows where I spend my nights.”
Dracia said nothing as they rode on is silence. Leal was about to speak again when Dracia turned her head to look at him.
“What happens once we arrive in Navalia? I can defend myself a little now from their far away attacks, but I don’t know what will happen when I am in the same room as the princess. There is also Fannar to think about, as well as the king and all their guards. How do we leave Navalia without you betrothed to her?”
Leal sighed. He had been trying to work out a plan in his mind, but he had come up with nothing. If he declared he would not have Lilith, he was afraid Lilith would hurt Dracia or worse. If he tried to make promises to Lilith before the gods, he wasn’t sure how that would work. He couldn’t make those promises, it wouldn’t be possible.
“I don’t know yet,” said Leal. “We will think of something. I know Galen and Lexine are still trying to figure out how to further negate the power Lilith has over you. I will not leave Navalia betrothed to Princess Lilith.”
“No, you will not. No matter what happens, she will not have you in anyway. I can promise you it,” said Dracia with intensity as she faced forward.
Leal did not like the sound of her voice or the implications that were made with her statement.
“You will do nothing to jeopardize yourself, Dracia. This will all mean nothing if you are not safe when we leave Navalia.”
“I do not wish to argue with you over this. I know my duty, and I will do it.”
“Dracia,” said Leal half pleading.
“I do not wish to come to harm, Leal. I will do all I can to keep you and Lexine, and even the king safe without seeing myself sacrificed in anyway.” Dracia looked down for a moment before looking at Leal from the side of her eyes.
“I do want to be with you. I hope you know it is my greatest wish,” said Dracia quietly as she looked behind them. “I love you. There is nothing I would not do to see you safe and happy.”
“Then you must protect yourself because I can never be happy without you. I will not let Lilith or Fannar or anyone else hurt you. I need you to believe I will find a way for us.”
Dracia smiled and looked at him. “I will continue to believe there is a way for us even if I cannot see how because it is the only way I can go on. Whatever happens in Navalia will not change the way I feel about you, or who you are to me.”
“I will come to you tonight,” said Leal feeling a great need to be near her.
“I don’t see how. You and the rest of the court will stay at Lord Nest’s cousin’s manor. There is not room for the Sentinel. I am leaving a few guards on duty, but the rest of us will go to a nearby inn in the town.”
“I will come find you in the inn,” said Leal. “You will have your own room, won’t you?”
“I do hope so. As High Captain, I believe I am at least entitled to my own room.”
“Then I will find you. I refuse to be away from you again tonight. It feels wrong to not hold you while I sleep, and I wake up in the worst mood. I believe I was rather rude to Lady Evans this morning. She asked me how I was, and I told her I was in no mood for inane questions. For the sake of our traveling companions, you will have to let me come to you.”
Dracia laughed. “I doubt poor Lady Evans even knows what inane means, but she is a nice woman. Fine, come to me tonight if you must. I would hate for you to alienate half your court before you are even king.”
Leal did make it to her room that night. The rain was heavy and cold as he made his way from the manor to the inn in town. It was a nice, tidy inn, and Leal was pleased to see it seemed safe and comfortable. He looked as any other well to do tradesman who passed through the village. He made his way through the still crowded first floor room where many merry people drank and laughed. He walked up the stairs at the agreed upon time and looked around as a door opened.
Dracia stood in a doorway wearing a heavy nightgown with her hair down. She leaned against the doorway and crossed her bare feet, smiling at Leal.
“Can I help you, sir? Are you having problems finding your room?” she asked quietly.
“I am afraid they are full up,” said Leal as he walked up to her. “I was hoping I could find some pretty young woman who would be willing to share.”
“I would like to help you,” said Dracia in mock sympathy,” but I am afraid I am not that kind of woman.” Dracia moved back into her room, giving a space for Leal to enter.
“Oh, I think you are, my dear,” he said letting his glamour fall. “At least for the right man.” He closed the door behind them, immediately kissing her and guiding her to the small bed.
Early the next morning, he quietly left her room, and walked down to the first floor. He was met by Roderick standing at the base of the stairs. Leal tried to walk by him, thinking maybe Roderick wouldn’t recognize him.
“If you are going for an early morning walk, I thought I might accompany you, your highness,” said Roderick quietly as he stood close to Leal.
Leal nodded and they walked out of the inn together.
“I guess it was stupid to think you wouldn’t know who I was,” said Leal as they walked through the town in the light of the slowly rising sun. It was not raining, but it was cloudy, and the air felt even colder than the night before.
“The Sentinel took all the rooms of the inn, so I knew it had to be you unless it was some stranger entertaining an Elite. All our Elites are doubled up in rooms except for the High Captain. I can also tell by how you walk and hold yourself. No merchant, no matter how well to do he is, walks in a room as if he has the right to everything in it like a prince.”
“Fair enough, what do you wish to speak of, Roderick? I figure you have something to say to me.”
“You are planning to go to the summer palace today I understand,” said Roderick as they walked.
“Yes, I want to see my mother. It has been too long, and there have been concerning reports on her health.”
“You are taking the High Captain and Galen,” said Roderick.
“Yes, Lexine as well. We need a couple members of the Sentinel to travel with us, though I doubt we encounter any trouble.”
“But you could,” said Roderick. “The High Captain has ordered me to stay with the king and the traveling group.”
“I take it you are not happy about her command.”
“Not at all. It caused us to have one of our rare arguments. I do not like being away from her when she is out on a mission. I have fought by her side for many years,” said Roderick.
“I doubt there will be any fighting. We will be gone only one night. You don’t need to worry.”
“You will be traveling a desolate road to get to the summer palace. There are opportunities for thieves to beset you. We also don’t know what is really going on in the kingdom with the uprising. I am uneasy about this side trip you are taking.”
“I can keep reassuring you, but I feel as though you have a request. Would you like me to try to convince Dracia to let you come along?”
“No, she was very adamant about her command, and I know she is right. I do not want Darron left alone without someone watching him. What I want is your reassurances you will watch out for Dracia.”
“Of course, you have to know I want to protect the woman I love as well as my sister and your brother. I believe your High Captain is also very capable to take care of herself and all of us.”
“She is, but when she was hit with that poisoned knife, Lord Ethen pointed out that it seemed to be a personal attack on just her. Ever since then, I have been fearful that someone would try to find the opportunity to kill her again. Traveling with just three companions on a dark, desolate road would be a good opportunity for an assassin.”
“You really think someone is trying to kill her, Roderick?” asked Leal, feeling sick at his stomach.
“I don’t know, but Lord Ethen had good points about the knife. How did it get through our defenses, and why was it the only blade poisoned in the whole battle.? I have a feeling he is right, and she could be in danger. So, promise me you will take extra care to watch out for her.”
“I will, Roderick. I will make sure she is by my side the whole journey. I can assure you there is nothing more precious to me in this world, but I think you already know it.”
Roderick nodded. “I should get back to the inn as we are getting close to the manor. I know how much you do care for Dracia, but you have to understand she means a lot to me as well.”
“I do understand it,” said Leal stopping for a moment. “Do not worry. I will see her safe not just through this trip to the summer palace, but the whole journey to Navalia and back.”
“I hope you are able to do it, your highness,” said Roderick before he turned and started walking back to the inn.
Leal watched him go, hoping he was able to do it as well.