The Sentinel of Cassendar: Navalia

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Chapter 14

Leal rode as fast as he dared towards the summer palace. The snow covered road was hard to see in the darkness that surrounded him. Dracia’s horse kept up with him, occasionally coming so close to almost bump his own horse, as if trying to get to its High Captain. Leal kept one arm wrapped around Dracia, keeping her close to him, as he led his horse with his other. He could feel her trembling against him as the wind whipped around them.

Leal looked down at her to see her eyes were closed, and she was very pale. He wanted nothing more than to get her inside somewhere warm, and find some way to help her. His horse stumbled slightly on the slick road, and Leal lost his grip on her for a moment. She moved against him, making a small noise as Leal steadied her, slowing his horse a bit, not wanting anything to keep him from getting Dracia safe to the palace.

He could hear the sound of horses coming up behind him. He turned to see his sister and Galen riding up. He was glad Galen would be there when they arrived. He might need his help seeing to Dracia. As he rode, Leal tried to concentrate and see if he could find some way to withdraw the Navalian magic from within her, but it felt like too much. He could feel it at work within her, moving through her in its usual sinister way. If Lilith thought she could get away with this, she would find out how wrong she was. He didn’t really want to go to Navalia, but he would go no matter what. He would go and somehow make sure Lilith or any of the Navalians could never hurt Dracia again.

Leal looked up and saw the large gates to the summer palace before him. They were closed, the wood and iron meeting together to form a large golden eagle in the middle. Leal road up to it, maneuvering his horse so he was next to it. He let go of the reins for a moment and placed his hand over the wood. He felt the ward on it respond to the power that rested under his skin. The gate opened slowly inward, allowing Leal and the others to ride through onto the path that led to the palace.

The palace was not as large as the high palace in Winsdell. It was more of a large manor house than a palace, but it was always called the summer palace as for generations it was the home to the royal family of Cassendars during the hot summer months. Leal had spent many summers here as a child, usually with Dracia. The Yates routinely came with the royal family as well as a few other members of the court.

The path to the palace was long and winding as the grounds were extensive. Leal had spent many happy hours running through the lawn and forest that surrounded the palace. He had spent one happy summer of his seventeenth year walking through the trees with Dracia, sneaking kisses, being in the euphoric state of new, young love. He had been glad then of the large swath of land that included many tress to hide in. Now he wished the grounds weren’t so extensive so he could get Dracia inside.

He finally caught site of the palace as he came out of a curve. The building was mostly dark with only a few windows having light shine out of them. Leal rode up to the front as Lexine and Galen stopped just behind him. Galen jumped off his horse and walked over to Leal. Leal carefully handed Dracia to him, before sliding from his saddle. Aarit had come over to Galen and was sticking his face close to the High Captain, making a soft noise next to her. Leal waved the horse away before taking Dracia from Galen, picking her up and carrying her up the stairs to the front door.

Lexine and Galen followed him, Lexine pulling the cord found there and knocking loudly on the wooden door. They waited outside for a minute and no one answered. Leal kicked the door several times forcefully.

“In the name of your Crown Prince I demand you open this door,” he said in a loud voice.

The door slowly opened, and a small gray haired woman peaked out. Leal could barely remember her as the housekeeper of the palace.

“Your highness?” she said uncertainty. She looked at Leal and down at Dracia who rested in his arms. Her eyes then darted to Lexine and Galen.

“Yes, it is I, now let us in immediately,” he said as he walked up and practically pushed the older woman aside to get into the entry hall. “I need to go to a bedroom that is prepared now. You do keep at least a few bedrooms open, don’t you?”

The old woman nodded. “The queen likes us to keep all the royal bedrooms at the ready, thinking you will visit at any time.”

Leal felt a twinge of guilt and sadness at that statement, but he needed to help Dracia, so he pushed the feeling aside, and walked past the woman to the stairs. He walked up to the second floor, Galen and Lexine behind him. He could hear the old woman coming up as well. Leal went to the room he usually stayed in when he used to visit and stood in front of the door. He turned and looked at Galen, who opened the door allowing Leal to enter.

The room was dark and cold, but seem to have been cleaned recently.

“Galen, start a fire,” said Leal as he walked past the sitting area and to the large bed. “Lexine, come pull back the covers.”

Galen turned to the large fireplace and placed a few logs in it that were stacked nearby. He raised his hand and sparked a fire that quickly grew, lighting up the room. Lexine pulled back the thick comforter and sheets, and Leal placed Dracia in the bed. He looked down at Dracia and then turned to the housekeeper

“We will need more blankets, and a heavy nightgown if you can find one.”

“Warm water as well,” said Lexine. “And tea for all of us. You will also need to find someone to see to our horses, and bring in the packs we have brought with us.”

The woman looked at Leal and Lexine seeming to be in shock. Leal turned to yell at the woman, but Lexine put her hand on Leal’s shoulder before walking closer to the housekeeper.

“I am sorry we came with no notice, but we were traveling nearby and thought to check in with our mother. We ran into some trouble in the woods, and the High Captain of the Sentinel was injured. Can you see that all we requested is done, or do you need my assistance?”

“No, your highness, I can see to it,” said the old woman seeming to come to herself. “I will go down to the kitchen and get young Alfie to see to the horses. I can have the cook make you some tea and food. After that I am sure I can find a nightgown and bring up some water.”

“Bring the blankets first,” said Leal. “Lexine, go with her and come directly back with as many blankets as you can carry.”

Leal looked back down at Dracia as Lexine left with the older woman. He unfastened her soaking cloak and rolled her gently to get it off of her. He threw it over a nearby chair and turned back to Dracia. Her uniform did not seem to damp, her heavy cloak having done its job. Galen was already near her, waving his hands over her.

“It was a strong attack, I imagine,” said Galen looking down at Dracia. “It was strange because she seemed to have handled it at first.”

Leal touched her cold cheek, and her eyes fluttered open. She stared at Leal and then looked at Galen, before trying to sit up.

“No, Dracia, stay where you are,” said Leal putting his hand on her shoulder.

She looked concerned and then confused. “Is everyone well?” she asked quietly.

“Yes, we all made it to the summer palace. You need to get warm and rest.”

“Aarit?” she asked as she closed her eyes.

“Your horse is fine. He is being taken to the stables here,” said Leal reassuringly.

She nodded slightly and seem to fall back unconscious as she shivered. Leal knew he needed to help her in some way. He could feel his power unsettled within him, as it reached out towards Dracia, wanting to rid her of the magic within her. Leal took her hand and kissed her forehead. He could feel his power start to cover her as he gripped her hand. He felt some of the Navalian magic being withdrawn, and he started to turn cold.

Galen watched him curiously as Leal leaned down and placed his forehead against Dracia’s. He felt his power try to withdraw more and more of the magic, but as Galen had said the attack must have been very severe. Once Leal had taken as much as he could, he let go of Dracia’ s hand and sat up. She seemed to burrow under the covers as she turned slightly on her side. Leal stood up and walked over to the fireplace to warm himself, his breath visible in the air of the room.

Galen walked over to stand next to the Leal, holding his own hand out to the fire as he turned to look at Leal.

“The Cassendar power really can overpower Navalian magic,” said Galen.

“Yes, though it is not always easy. I am not sure how much I really helped Dracia just now. It seemed as if this attack was more powerful than any of the ones before.”

Before Galen could say anything else, the door opened. Leal turned to see his sister walk into the room holding several blankets, followed by his mother. Lexine looked at Leal with wide eyes and shook her head as she walked over to the bed and started placing blankets on Dracia.

“Mother?” asked Leal as he stepped forward to look at her. She seemed much as she did before. Her light brown hair had faded a bit, but her face looked unlined and her eyes clear. She smiled at Leal and walked towards him.

“Leal, I am so glad you came,” she said quickly. “I knew you would eventually. Mrs. Alby said you wouldn’t, but I knew you wouldn’t forget me. I told her I was sure you were busy, but one day you would find your way here, and now here you are.”

“No, I didn’t forget you,” said Leal quietly as he met her in the middle of the room. She took his hand and held it, and he could feel her tremble. “Are you alright, mother?”

“Oh yes, I have been feeling very well this week. I still have a few shakes, but when the healer comes to see me in a few days, that will be well,” said his mother as she released his hand. She seemed to be talking much too fast.

“We were told that you were very ill,” said Leal with confusion. “That you wouldn’t be able to recognize us.”

“That is ridiculous. I just said that to your sister. Didn’t I Lexine? She seemed so surprised I would know her, and I said of course I recognized my own lovely daughter,” said the queen as she let go of Leal’s hand and turned to Lexine who stood by the bed. “Now, what is this. Lexine said someone was unwell, but I know very well who this is.”

The queen walked quickly to the bed. Leal felt like he was in some sort of stupor. His mother knew who he was, and she knew Lexine. She was walking around and talking, but she was not like herself. Her remembered her being so calm, and quiet. Now, she was talking much too fast, and bustling around the room. She seemed to exude nervous energy.

“Just as I thought,” said the queen as she looked down at Dracia. “You have married the woman, haven’t you Leal? I am disappointed I didn’t make the wedding, but I suppose I must have been having one of my episodes.”

“Episodes?” asked Lexine.

“Yes, when I am very ill, the healer comes and gives me something. It makes me sleep for days, but she says it is necessary.”

Lexine looked at Leal with wide eyes. Leal shrugged and walked over closer to them.

“Oh, she is even more lovely than I remember,” said their mother as she looked down at Dracia. “You always did follow her around so, Leal. I knew one day you would wind up together. I remember telling your father, our Leal has already met his future queen, and I said that when you weren’t even twelve. Your father didn’t seem to like the idea. Wait, where is your father. Why didn’t he come?”

“Mother, why don’t you and I go somewhere and talk,” said Lexine slowly. “We could have some tea downstairs, and you haven’t even met Galen yet.”

“Galen, who is Galen?” asked the queen looking around.

“I am Galen Ellis,” said Galen walking towards the queen. “I am a novice of the Sentinel and a friend of your daughter.”

“A friend, are you?” asked the queen with a small laugh. She turned to look at Lexine and talk in a loud whisper. “He is very handsome, Lexine, but he said he was an Ellis. I am not sure it is proper that you are courted by such a lower lord’s son.”

“Mother,” said Lexine loudly.

The door opened and a short dark haired woman walked in the room quickly. She looked around with a shocked expression.

“Mrs. Alby,” said the queen turning from Lexine and meeting the small woman. “I told you my children would come, and look here they are. You tried to tell me they wouldn’t come, but I knew it. I knew they wouldn’t just leave me here forever.”

“This is the prince and princess?” asked Mrs. Alby looking at Leal and Lexine.

“Yes,” said Leal walking over. “I am Leal Cassendar, the Crown prince of Lanoxan, and this is Princess Lexine Cassendar. Who exactly are you?”

“I am your mother’s caretaker. I was hired by someone who was sent by the king to set up your mother here in the summer palace. I have been by her side since just after the queen was moved here.”

“Who is this someone who hired you?” asked Leal.

“I don’t really remember her name. I am not sure I ever heard it. She was a tall, blonde woman who was here with the queen. She comes every so often to check in though it has been a while. She brought me here to look after the queen, and I have done so ever since.”

Leal turned as he heard Dracia move in the bed. She said his name softly, and he walked over to her, seeing her eyes were open.

“Lexine, why don’t you and Galen take mother and Mrs. Alby downstairs and chat. Perhaps Galen could look over mother a bit. I will be down as soon as I can.”

“Oh yes, Lexine,” said their mother as she reached for Lexine’s hand. “Let’s go talk. I want to get to know this Galen you have brought with you, and I am sure Leal would like time to see to his wife.”

Leal nodded at Lexine encouragingly, and Lexine took her mother’s hand.

“Let’s go mother, you as well Mrs. Alby” said Lexine. She turned to look back at Leal. “I will check to make sure the housekeeper is bringing up something for Dracia to change into.” All three ladies and Galen left the room, leaving Leal alone with Dracia.

“Leal,” said Dracia softly looking up at him. “Did I hear your mother’s voice?”

“You did,” said Leal kneeling down beside her. “She seemed to recognize us all, except Galen of course. She doesn’t know him. But there is something wrong with her.”

“What do you think it is?”

“I am not sure, but hopefully Galen and Lexine can figure it out,” said Leal as he took Dracia’s hand.

“You should go see her as well.”

“I will not leave you, not yet. How are you feeling?” he asked as he kissed her hand.

“Tired, sore, and very confused. What happened out there? Who attacked us?”

“I am not sure. They were all just dressed in dark clothing, but they were a sizeable force. I don’t know what they were doing out in the middle of nowhere. It is almost as if they were waiting for us.”

Dracia closed her eyes for a moment and then opened them. They seemed to have tears in them. “I am sorry I failed you. I tried to fight through it, but it was so strange. The first attack was like the others. I was able to contain it and destroy it, but then there was another, and it felt so different. Usually when I feel her attacks, they just make me dizzy and weak, but the is one hurt so bad I couldn’t take it. I tried to fight through it, but I couldn’t. I felt like I was being torn apart. I’m sorry.”

“You don’t need to be sorry. How is any of this your fault? You fought well, and you took out most of the soldiers. I just cleaned up for you a bit. All that matters is that you rest. We will figure it all out later.”

She smiled a little. “You were supposed to run with Lexine. We will talk about that later too, I suppose.”

“You know I could never leave you, not when you are in danger,” said Leal with his own smile. “Do you need anything?”

She shook her head. “I just want to sleep for a while.”

“Then rest,” said Leal as he kissed her on her forehead. “Rest, and in a while, you can get cleaned up, and eat something.”

He watched as Dracia closed her eyes and turned her head. He held her hand as she fell asleep, watching her as her breaths became even and her hand limp in his. He kissed her hand gently and let it go, standing up to go downstairs.

He looked around downstairs until he found a light coming from the front parlor. Walking in he saw Galen sitting next to his mother, his hands hovering over her shoulders. Lexine, seeing Leal walked up to him.

“How is Dracia?” she asked softly.

“Better, I think. She wanted to rest for a while,” replied Leal looking over Lexine’s shoulder to watch Galen and his mother.

“I have her nightgown when she is ready. The housekeeper, Mrs. Lynn, said she could send up some water for baths as well.”

“We will let Dracia rest for a bit, and then she can eat and prepare for the rest of the night. How is mother?”

“It is hard to say. You saw how she was. I am glad she recognized us, but that is not like her at all. She can’t seem to sit or stand still, and she talks so fast. There must be something wrong,” said Lexine turning to look over at her.

“Galen is examining her, isn’t he?” asked Leal.

“Yes, I thought it would be best if he did it and not me. I am feeling too much to be able to detect everything, and he is cleverer than me. Leal, what is wrong with her, and if she knows us, why would father say otherwise?” asked Lexine looking up at Leal with tears in her eyes.

Leal opened his arms, and Lexine leaned into him. “I don’t know, but we will find out. We won’t leave her until we have some answers and some way to help her. I won’t abandon her, Lex, neither of us will,” said Leal as he hugged his sister.

Leal let Lexine go as Galen walked up to them.

“Well, what did you find out?” asked Lexine.

“We should walk out in the hall to speak of this,” said Galen.

They all three turned and walked into the entry hall, Lexine wrapping her arms around herself as she stared at Galen.

“Someone has been giving your mother something to alter her reality,” said Galen. “I have read about the signs, and I think she exhibits them all. Though right now, she seems not to have taken any for a week or so. She has some symptoms of the substance leaving her body.”

“You mean someone has been poisoning her?” asked Leal horrified.

“No, it is not a poison. I believe she has been given ompia, which can be used as a medicine for those who are ill in the mind, or have experienced extreme trauma. It helps calm one down, but I cannot see that your mother has any illness in her mind. She does have some scarring on her lungs, probably from some childhood disease. I am sure this is why she is sickly at times, but it would not cause her to need to take ompia. The best thing for her would be a warm, dry environment. Staying here in the dead of winter is the worst thing she could do.”

“Who has been giving her the ompia, Galen?” asked Lexine.

“I talked to Mrs. Alby, and she says she usually gives your mother her medicine twice a day, but she was ashamed to admit that she dropped the bottle last week as it was open onto the just cleaned floor, so it was ruined. She was ashamed to tell anyone, so she has been just giving your mother her tea with no medicine in it until the healer comes next week.”

“And the medicine is the ompia, isn’t it?” asked Leal.

“I believe so,” answered Galen. “Perhaps with some other things.

“How long will she be like she is now?” asked Lexine.

“It takes a while for the substance to leave the body, and she has been taking it for some time. Hopefully in a few weeks, she will be closer to normal, but as long as she has been taking it, she might always be altered in some way.”

“Who is this healer who comes to see her?” asked Leal.

“Mrs. Alby says her name is Ragna, and she has come ever since Mrs. Alby has been here,” said Galen.

“What do we do, Leal?” asked Lexine.

Leal rubbed his face with his hand. They couldn’t leave her here, not with this healer dosing her with substances that could not be good for her. Galen had also said this was the worst place she could be for her real illness.

“We will think of something, Lexine. Maybe we can send her somewhere. Do you think this Mrs. Alby is trustworthy, Galen?”

Galen shrugged. “She didn’t seem to know much except what she is told by the healer. I think she is doing as she is instructed.”

“Lexine, go speak with the housekeeper and see what horses are kept here and if there is any carriage in good repair”

Lexine nodded. “I will see about dinner as well. I know I am hungry, and I am sure you both are too.”

“Yes, let’s have dinner with our mother and Mrs. Alby. Make sure the housekeeper joins us as well, insist upon it, sister. I want to find out what has been going on here, and who we can trust.”

After dinner, Leal walked up the stairs with a tray of food to see Dracia while Galen and Lexine sat with the queen in the parlor. When he entered the room, Dracia sat up groggily, hearing him open the door. He walked over and sat the tray of food on the table as he sat next to Dracia.

“How are you feeling?”

“Better, I think. I feel like I could sleep for a week, but I would really like to clean up and get out of these clothes first,” said Dracia as she pushed back some hair that had fallen from her braid.

“The housekeeper is sending up some water, and something for you to change into. Why don’t you eat while you wait?”

“How long have I been asleep?” asked Dracia looking over at the tray next to her.

“Just a few hours,” answered Leal as he helped her bring the tray closer to her.

“Have I missed anything?”

Leal hesitated, wondering where to start or how much to tell her at this point.

“I suppose I did, judging by your reaction. Why don’t I eat, and you start at the beginning,” said Dracia as she took a bite of her food.

Leal told her everything they had learned about his mother. Dracia gave him shocked and concerned looks as she try to eat, eventually giving up entirely on her plate.

“Do you think your father knows about this?” asked Dracia as she sat her plate aside.

“I don’t know,” said Leal. “I would like to think not, but who knows after the way he has been acting these past few years. But why would he do this? Why would anyone do this?”

Dracia looked to be in thought for a moment. “Maybe your father doesn’t know everything that is going on here. Maybe he really believes your mother is very ill and beyond help. What if someone just wanted your mother out of the way?”

“Then why not just kill her?” asked Leal. “I hate to say it, but if they wanted my mother out of my father’s life, why not just get rid of her permanently?”

“I don’t know,” said Dracia as she put her hand to her head.

“This is too much for you right now,” said Leal leaning over her and rubbing her forehead with his fingers. “You need to rest.”

“No, I want to help you with this, but I think we need to start with what is important first. We have to get the queen out of here and to safety. Somewhere she will be taken care of, and is a good place for her actual sickness.”

“Do you have any ideas?” asked Leal.

“I do, but we will need to send a message tonight. Is there any way we can get a message out quickly?”

“There are a few servants here and some horses. I would think someone could get one to Westmoria to find someone who could send something urgently. Where would this message be going?”

“To Siccaria,” said Dracia. “We should have your mother go to Lady Elise tomorrow morning if you can convince the queen to go. She will be safe there, and the air in Siccaria should be good for her, even this time of year. It won’t be a hard ride from this side of the kingdom, just a few days if they go quickly and change horses at some inns.”

Leal smiled at her. “You are brilliant, you do know it, don’t you?”

“I don’t know how brilliant I am, but I think this is the best course to help the queen. Now go see that I get some water for a bath, and when I am done, bring me some paper and a quill. I hope you won’t take offense to this, but I think it is best if I write to Lady Elise.”

“I was going to ask you to do it, anyway. I will be back in a while. You will be alright bathing yourself, won’t you? I could stay and help,” said Leal with a small smile.

“And shock the staff here and your mother?” asked Dracia giving him a small swat on the arm.

“Mother actually assumes we are married,” said Leal taking her hand and kissing it.

“And what did you say to that?” asked Dracia.

“Nothing, why would I? She seemed pleased with the idea,” said Leal smiling wider.

“Go get me what I need. I will be fine bathing on my own. I am just sore and tired, but I can manage soaking in a tub. Should I change rooms first?”

“Why in the name of the hills would you change rooms, Dracia?” asked Leal as he stood up.

“If I remember correctly, this is your room here in the summer palace, perhaps I should be shown to a guest room.”

“Did you just not hear that my mother already assumes we are married? The staff will follow the lead of their queen. You don’t want to upset my mother, do you? You will stay here tonight. I want to watch over you after all that is happened.”

Leal left the room and went downstairs, meeting a couple of attendants who were bringing up buckets of water. He stopped them and ask them to bring Dracia a quill, some ink, and paper. After having their assurances, he walked downstairs. He found his mother back in the front parlor, sitting on the sofa with Lexine, and Galen sitting in a chair close by. Leal entered and sat down close to his mother.

“How is Lady Dracia?” asked the queen. She suddenly put her hands to her mouth. “I am sorry, Leal, that is not how she should be addressed. What should I call her? She is my daughter now, do you think she would mind if I just called her Dracia or would she prefer something else?”

“I am sure she would be fine with whatever you wish to call her, mother,” said Leal.

“Well, how is your wife?” asked the queen.

“She is doing better. She is taking a bath as we speak. I will go check on her in a moment, but first I wanted to speak with you. How would you feel about taking a trip?”

“A trip, where? Will you be going? Will your father be there? When would I leave?”

“I think you should go visit the nobles of Siccaria. They visited us this past summer, and they are lovely people, and I know they would enjoy hosting you. You could leave tomorrow morning, and Mrs. Alby could travel with you. I have been assured the carriage here is in decent repair. It wouldn’t be a long trip, just a couple of days,” said Leal.

“But I don’t know the nobles of Siccaria well. I have met only a few of them and that was years ago. Why would they want to visit with me?”

Lexine looked at Leal, and Leal nodded encouragingly. “You should go, mother. I hear Siccaria is lovely, and it will be so good for your health. It would be good for the kingdom if you would go forward our relationship with the nobles.”

“But tomorrow morning? I am not packed. I don’t know if I have time.”

“I can ask Mrs. Lynn to see you packed tonight. I think you should go, mother,” said Lexine.

“Yes, your majesty, the weather in Siccaria would do much for your health. If you improve as I believe you would, you could even come back to Winsdell by the summer,” said Galen.

“You all really think I should go?” asked the queen.

“Yes,” said Leal. “And if you go, I believe Dracia and I could come visit you in Siccaria soon. The Siccarians have been asking me to bring Dracia to see them. They enjoyed meeting her this past summer.”

“I would come as well, mother,” said Lexine. “Maybe we could even get father to travel with us. I know he will want to see you.”

“Well, if I am going to go, I need to go prepare. Will you come help me, Lexine?” asked the queen as she stood up.

“I will. Galen, I believe Mrs. Lynn had a room made ready for you. I will have her show you to it before she comes and helps my mother.”

Galen and Leal stood as the queen and Lexine left the room.

“Will we leave as soon as you see the queen off tomorrow?” asked Galen.

“I suppose we will, but I worry about Dracia on the trip,” said Leal. “She is feeling better, but I imagine she is very sore and tired, and will be even more so tomorrow.”

“Could we stay another day here?” asked Galen.

“We could, but I doubt Dracia will agree to it. She will not want to delay in getting back to her Elites or the whole party. If we stay, my father could send out someone here to check on us, and I would rather it not happen until I know more of what is going on here.”

Galen nodded. “We can go as slow as we need to tomorrow, and give the High Captain many breaks to ease the pain of travel.”

Leal nodded. “I should go see to her now. You should get cleaned up and get some sleep, Galen. Tomorrow will be a long day.”

Leal left the parlor and walked back to his room. He lightly on the door and listened to hear Dracia telling him to enter. He walked in to find her sitting by the fire, clothed in a long sleeve night gown, and drying her damp hair. He walked over and watched her send a light breeze through her hair as she moved her hand by her head.

“Do you feel better after a bath?” asked Leal as he moved to sit beside her.

“I do, though I thought I would never be able to stand up. I must have hit the ground hard when I feel off of Aarit. Sometimes I forget how tall he really is.”

“I am sure the attack didn’t help. Will you be able to ride tomorrow?” asked Leal.

“I will have to be because we must leave. Did you arrange it for the queen to leave tomorrow?”

“Yes, she is packing now. Did the attendants bring you some paper and a quill?”

“They did. I am just about to write the letter. Can you see that is sent?” asked Dracia as she stood up to go to the small vanity in the room. She groaned as she stood and walked over stiffly sitting down slowly in the chair there.

“I will take it to an attendant as soon as you finish,” said Leal.

He sat in front of the fire and leaned back in the chair, watching Dracia as she wrote. He couldn’t help but smile at this picture of domestic life in front of him. He had dreamed of living with her in this way. The circumstances were not ideal at the moment, but thinking of her as his wife as she wrote a letter in their rooms in her nightgown was a memory he filed away to help him through the trials he knew were to come.

When she had finished her letter, he sealed it for her, and left the room to walk down the stairs. He found Mrs. Lynn who was in the kitchens packing food and some drinks for the queen’s trip tomorrow. She assured him the letter would be sent out immediately. Leal had no doubt Lady Elise would be a good hostess to his mother, especially with Dracia’s request. The old woman did seem to think fondly of Dracia.

Leal walked back upstairs and to his room to find Dracia sitting by the fire, with his mother sitting close to her.

“Leal,” said his mother as he walked into the room. “You didn’t tell me your wife is still in the Sentinel. How could you let this be?”

“She is not just in the Sentinel; she is the High Captain,” said Leal sitting down by Dracia.

“You let her do this? You are fine with her being in this dangerous position?” asked the queen. “No, you must insist that she resign. She is much too important to be putting herself in that kind of danger.”

“I would love to keep her safe and away from the life as an Elite and High Captain, but it is who she is for now. I love her for who she is, and I will not ask her to change for me.”

“But what if you have children. Surely, you want children soon, my dear,” said his mother turning to look at Dracia. “You cannot think of having children while serving in the Sentinel. Promise me you will resign if you have children.”

Dracia smiled. “When and if I blessed to have a child, I will make sure I do everything in my power to keep that child safe. I give you my word, your majesty.”

“Good, but I still think you should resign soon. I can see my son loves you very much, and I was always fond of you myself. I would hate for something to happen to you. It seems you were injured tonight somehow. You need to remember who you are, my dear. You will be the next queen of our kingdom. You must protect yourself.”

“She has already heard it all from me mother,” said Leal smiling at Dracia. “But she is as selfless as they come. She thinks of everyone else before herself.”

“Then she should think of you. How do you think my son would feel if something bad did happen to you? What you have with him is special; I hope you can see it. A crown prince making a love match is practically unheard of. The gods know the king and I weren’t given a choice, though it worked out fine, but I can tell what Leal has with you is rare.”

“It is,” said Leal grabbing Dracia’s hand.

“Which is why you father relented and let you have her, I suppose. He was always going on about that Cassendar curse to me. Thinks he had to unite you with some foreign princess or some nonsense. He made me go over and over it with him. I think he was convinced to make some alliance with Navalia, but I tried to tell him that is not it at all. Spring’s tree, my dear, I said to him. It says the bird rest happily in spring’s tree.”

Dracia and Leal looked at each other.

“Spring’s tree?” asked Leal.

“You have heard of the curse, haven’t you? I figured your father would have shared it with you.”

“He did,” said Leal. “But what is this about spring’s tree?”

“It is all nonsense of course, some old folklore, but if you want to figure out the curse the answer is of course spring’s tree, a dogwood. The nobles of Siccaria house standard is a dogwood tree isn’t it? How funny I will be going there in a couple of days. I will have to talk to them about this. I am sure they will find it as odd as I do,” said the queen laughing. She coughed for a moment. “But I tried to tell your father, you are so sure it’s that winter kingdom, but if you really follow this blasted thing you would want to unite your house with Siccarian nobles.”

Dracia looked at Leal with concern and then looked at the queen.

“Oh, don’t worry about it, Dracia,” said the queen brushing her hand aside. “It was some silliness the king was stuck on. I’m glad to see he got past it because it seems as if you and Leal go very well together.”

“We do mother,” said Leal as he pulled Dracia’s hand to his lips. “There is simply no one else in this world I would have as my wife.”

“Of course, not,” said the queen. “I knew that long ago. Now you must be tired, my dears, and I still have some things to do before I leave in the morning. I don’t know if I will sleep at all. It’s been so long since I have been anywhere.” The queen practically hopped off of the couch. Leal stood and walked her to the door, his mother leaning in to give him a quick kiss on the cheek before she left.

“You are right, Leal, that is not how I remember your mother at all,” said Dracia as Leal walked over to her. “She was always kind, but never exuberant. She was a careful woman in her actions and words.”

“Galen says the effect could last weeks. He said she has been taking it so long, she might always be a little different than she was before.”

“I am so sorry, Leal. It could be worse, I suppose. She seems as well as she has ever been, and she still recognizes you and Lexine,” said Dracia.

“I wonder what she has had to endure while she was here in the hands of some mystery woman and healer, we don’t even know is a healer. I can’t believe my father had just left her here to live her life this way. I never thought my parents were madly in love, but they did seem to have some fondness for each other. Now, my father seems to have gotten her out of the way while he entertains various lovers.”

Dracia stood slowly and took Leal’s hand. “I don’t know what to say. I don’t think I could say anything to make it any better, but we will figure this out together. We will make sure your mother is safe and taken care of, and we will figure out what is going on with the king.”

“I do like it when you say we will do things together, Dracia,” said Leal looking down at her. “For the longest time, I thought you might give up on us completely.”

“I did try to give you up for a time. I didn’t want to, but it all seemed so hopeless. I found out that I could not do without you. I’ve always been so disciplined in my life, and I thought I could let you go if I really tried, but it was impossible. I don’t want to say you are my weakness because that is not true. I will say instead that you have become essential to me. I couldn’t give you up any more than I could will my heart to stop beating,” said Dracia.

“You are coming close to being poetic again,” said Leal with a smile as he bent down and kissed her.

“I would never make a good poet, but it isn’t because of my lack of inspiration from you,” said Dracia with a yawn.

“You need to go to bed if we are going to ride to Westmoria tomorrow. I dread you even trying, but I don’t see a way around it,” said Leal as he led Dracia to the bed.

She laid down and Leal bundled her up under the covers.

“I will clean up quickly and come back,” he said as he leaned down and kissed her. She nodded and curled up on her side.

By the time he had cleaned and readied himself for bed, he found her sound asleep, making slight noises as she breathed. Leal laid down slowly next to her, not wanting to disturb her. He placed his arm around her and gently pulled himself close to her, realizing how weary he was. Though a million thoughts had been running through his head, and he knew there were dangers all around them, Leal felt himself settle into a deep, peaceful sleep. Even has his world shifted around him, one thing held him steady, and that was his belief that his love for Dracia was enough to help him endure anything.

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