Dracia was awoken by Leal softly kissing her forehead. She blinked her eyes a few time to focus them, seeing Leal leaning over her. Groaning, she slowly sat up and realized how tired and sore she really was.
“I’m sorry. I wanted to let you sleep longer, but my mother is asking for you. She wants to see you before she leaves,” said Leal
“I need to get up, and get dressed. We will need to leave soon, or your father will start worrying, not to mention Roderick. The poor man is probably pacing the floor already.”
“I can try to get an attendant to help you dress. Most are helping to pack the carriage for mother’s trip, but I am sure I could ask the housekeeper to get someone, or I could just help you.”
“You?” asked Dracia. “You are going to help me dress?”
“I can. I don’t mind. I have undone your buttons on your dress many times. I am sure I can fasten them as well,” said Leal with a smile.
“I don’t think I can pass up the opportunity to be dressed and waited on by a prince,” said Dracia as she moved her legs over to stand up.
Leal took her hands and helped her stand slowly. She straightened up, feeling her sides and back respond angrily as pain shot through her. She let go of his hands and looked around, spotting her uniform close to the fire. She made her way over and sorted through her things, looking for her under clothes. After several agonizing minutes, and much help from Leal who proved to have very nimble fingers in doing up her back buttons, Dracia found herself dressed.
She moved over and sat down at the vanity, using a comb she found there to work out some tangles.
“I don’t suppose you are proficient in braiding hair, your highness?” she asked as she looked at him in the mirror.
He smirked. “No, I was never taught that in all my lessons. While I have taken your hair down many times, I don’t think it will work the same way as the buttons. I could go get someone.”
“No, it is no matter. I will just do something simple,” said Dracia, not feeling like holding up her arms to do her normal crown braids.
In the end she braided her hair the best she could, so it ran down her shoulder, tying the end with a ribbon. At least it would stay out of her face while she rode. After she was done, she stood with Leal’s help and held on to his arm as he grabbed their cloaks and escorted her out of the room.
The queen was standing with Lexine and Galen by the front door. She was dressed in a dark traveling dress and cloak, her hair pulled up in a simple bun. She swayed slightly back and forth on her feet as though she couldn’t stand still.
“Oh, here you are,” said the queen as she noticed Leal and Dracia. “I didn’t want to leave without saying goodbye, Dracia.”
“I do hope you have a safe trip, your majesty,” said Dracia. “I know you will like Siccaria. Lady Elise will be a courteous hostess to you.”
“I am sure she will, and there will be no more of this your majesty business. You are my daughter now, and you should call me mother like Leal and Lexine. I will not have you be so formal with me, not now that you are family.”
Dracia smiled, nodded, and dropped into as deep of a curtsey as her body would allow.
“Now, I suppose I must be off. I do wish I could spend more time with you, my dears,” said the queen looking at Lexine and then Leal. “I feel as if I haven’t seen you in a long while, and now I am leaving when you have just arrived.”
“We will come see you soon, mother,” said Lexine. “You need to go for your health. This is goodbye, but it is not a long goodbye. We will find a way to see you by spring.”
“Lexine is right, mother, nothing will keep us away from you this time. I will even see if I can have father accompany us.”
“And you will bring you wife as well, Leal? I will want to see Dracia, too. I don’t suppose your Galen can come Lexine, but I think I do like him. He may be a lower lord’s son, but there is something about him that suggest he is for greater things, I think.”
“Mother, please,” said Lexine as she blushed
“I just want things to work out for you, and you do seem to like him. He has kind eyes and a nice smile. I think he would do very well for you if he was a little higher ranked in the court. I know it doesn’t seem fair, but it is the way the kingdom works.”
“Mother, I believe you need to be going,” said Lexine as she opened the door. “It is cold, and you need to get going before the horses and your driver sit too long. Mrs. Alby is already in the carriage.”
The queen nodded. “I will see you soon, Lexine.” The queen kissed Lexine on her cheek. “You as well Leal.” Leal walked over and gave his mother a kiss. “Dracia, come say farewell to me as well, dear.” Dracia walked over and took the queen’s hand as the queen bent forward and kissed her cheek.
“Safe travel’s mother,” said Leal as he stood behind Dracia, placing his arm around her waist to steady her.
The queen turned and walked to the carriage. As she was handed in by one of her attendants, she looked back and smiled happily at them all. They all stood together in the open door and watched as the carriage door closed and went on its way.
“Well, that is that,” said Lexine as she closed the door. “Hopefully, she arrives quickly and safely.”
“I asked Lady Elise to send us word in Navalia when the queen arrives,” said Dracia.
“What of this healer woman when she comes in a few days?” asked Galen. “What if someone in the palace tells her where the queen has gone?”
“She will be in Siccaria by then,” answered Leal. “The nobles will keep her safe. I am very sure of their cooperation when they read Dracia’s letter.”
“We should be going soon,” said Dracia as she messaged her right shoulder with her left hand. “It is an almost four hour ride to the estate of the Lord of Westmoria.”
“High Captain, will you be alright to ride this morning?” asked Galen looking at her with concern.
“Whether I am or not, I must ride. I have been in worse condition on a horse. I am sure we will make it, though it will not be enjoyable. Aarit provides a smooth ride, but he is still a horse, and I believe the roads will be snow covered in spots the whole way.”
Leal saw to their simple packs being brought downstairs, and their horses being made ready while Lexine sat with Dracia while she ate. Galen looked over some books that were kept at the summer palace, asking if he could take a few. Leal told him to take whatever he wanted. By a little after the tenth bell, they were ready to go.
They walked outside to see their four horses ready to ride. Leal walked Dracia to Aarit. The horse fidgeted slightly as if happy to see her. She reached out and stroked him, and whispered a greeting into his ear to which he tossed his head a bit. Leal lifted her as gently as he could so she could sit in the saddle. Throwing her leg over she shifted around, trying to find a comfortable position.
Soon, everyone was mounted up and ready to go. Leal looked down at the housekeeper.
“Mrs. Lynn, I would like you to send me a message to the royal palace in Navalia about how the healer reacts when she finds the queen is missing. I would like her destination to stay a secret if it can, but I know that may be impossible.”
“I will not tell her, and I will tell all the other attendants if anyone is caught saying anything about it, they will be dismissed. I cannot guarantee it won’t get out, but I will do my best.”
Leal nodded, and turned to Dracia. “Whenever you need to stop, just let us know. You do not need to push through if you are in immense pain. I know you want to get back swiftly, but do not push yourself too far.”
“I will be fine, Leal; let’s go. The sooner we are on the road, the sooner we will be in the warm manor.”
They rode carefully on the roads. The sun was out, and some of the snow started to melt, making the road slushy. As they passed the area they were attacked, they slowed down seeing men out in the forest and fires burning.
“I told the housekeeper what had happened, and she had the leaders of Westmoria alerted by an attendant. I suppose they are cleaning up the bodies,” said Leal.
Dracia turned Aarit and rode off the road towards the men. She spotted two who were picking up a body, and she rode up to them.
“Hello, there,” said Dracia looking down at the men. “I am Dracia Yates, the High Captain of the Sentinel of Cassendar. Have you found any markings on any of the bodies, something that would show where they might be from?”
The two men looked up at her seeming to trying to comprehend what she had said. One finally licked his lips and opened his mouth. “No, High Captain, all of the men I have seen have been clothed in dark clothing, but nothing to suggest where they might be from.”
“Nothing on the horses either, I suppose?” asked Dracia.
The men shook their heads. “If you do find something today, please send word to the Lord of Westmoria’s estate. I will be there until tomorrow morning. If you find something after then, send word to the Sentinel. I will check in with them as I travel with the king.”
“Of course, High Captain,” said the man.
“Dracia, we need to be going,” said Leal as he rode up to her.
“I know, I just wanted to check in with these men. I would like to know who attacked us,” said Dracia as she turned her horse and rode by Leal back to the road.
They kept traveling throughout the late morning. By the time they had reached the main road, Dracia didn’t know how much further she could go on. Her body ached, and every step Aarit took, sent waves of pain through her body. At times she was thankful for the pain because it kept her heavy eyes from closing. Though she had slept through the night, she felt as though she could sleep for a week more.
She leaned heavily forward in her saddle, almost leaning on Aarit’s neck. A few times she slipped slightly, but quickly caught herself and regained her balance. Leal must have seen her almost fall once, because he called for them to stop and rest.
“No,” said Dracia shaking her head. “If we stop and I dismount, I am not sure I could get back on. We need to press on.”
“This is madness, Dracia. We still have a couple of hours to go. Come, ride with me, you can barely keep your eyes open.”
“I cannot ride with you as we come close to the estate, it wouldn’t look proper,” said Dracia.
“I could give three kingdom pieces about what looks proper if your health is at stake. If you won’t ride with me, ride with Galen or even Lexine if she thinks she can handle you.”
Dracia shook her head and urged Aarit forward, feeling every movement cause pain to run through her cold body. She could go on. She had ridden in pain before, and she had made it just fine. Of course, she couldn’t remember being in this much pain and this weary, but she was supposed to be strong enough for anything. She had trained for years to endure pain and resist sleep. She was an Elite of the Sentinel. She was the High Captain. The Sentinel was only as strong as its High Captain, and she would prove to be strong enough to withstand anything.
Leal pleaded with her for a while, Lexine joining in at one point. They eventually gave up when she stopped even reacting to them. Leal rode next to her, an angry expression on his face.
“You are a stubborn woman, do you know it?” asked Leal in exasperation after they had ridden in silence for a while.
“I am only stubborn in that I know my own limits. Yes, I am exhausted, and I hurt, but I can ride a simple four hours on a good road. If I can’t do this, I have no business being the High Captain of your Sentinel.”
“Why are you still trying to prove you are worthy? No one questions your position as High Captain.”
“You know that isn’t true, and even if it was, I would continually have to prove it to myself. I will never be satisfied with how I do my duty, and I shouldn’t be. I will only be the High Captain the Sentinel needs if I keep pushing myself, and asking myself constantly if I am worthy.”
“Dracia,” started Leal.
“I do the same in all areas of my life. As I teach Galen Mystics, I have to evaluate all the time if I am worthy of instructing him at all. I look at Roderick as my second, and I ask myself if I am a worthy friend and High Captain to him. When I pushed you away all those times I was mostly questioning if I was worthy of all the stress and pain, I was causing you. I still ask myself daily if I am a woman worthy of your love. If I am ever your queen or the mother to your children, it will be the same in those roles. It is who I am.”
“This is how you live?” asked Leal. “You spend every day of your life evaluating yourself, trying to decide if you need to be better at who you are?”
“Yes, and most of the time I decide that I do. I know I can be better at most if not all areas of my life. Do you not believe in self-reflection?”
“Yes, and I believe I do practice it, though not to your extreme. Isn’t there ever a point you are satisfied?”
“Satisfied? Not very often, but I often do find myself happy in the direction I am going. I am not a miserable creature, Leal. I find enjoyment in bettering myself. I thought you knew this about me.”
“I knew you pushed yourself to great lengths and held yourself to high standards, but I never knew it went as deep as this.”
“Does it change your mind about loving me?” asked Dracia.
“Not at all, but it reinforces something I already knew about myself.”
“And what would that be?” asked Dracia.
“That there is no way in the four heavens I will ever deserve you. I will keep trying, though, because as I have said before there is no going back for us. Our love and our path is set.”
“If it helps, I never question if you are worthy of me. I know who you are, and I love every part of you.”
“Even the bit that snores at times or the part of me that can be lazy?” asked Leal.
“Yes, I love you even when you snore, and I don’t think you are lazy, especially now that you are grown. I do think you enjoy a day of rest here and there, and I don’t think that is a bad thing. I like that about you. I hope you will encourage me to do the same,” said Dracia finding that talking to Leal kept her mind off of her pain and weariness. “Do you love me despite my faults?”
“Leal, you know I have several, don’t make me list them.”
“Well, I do wish you weren’t so stubborn sometimes, especially when I am afraid every second you are going to fall off that horse again.”
Dracia looked at him and smiled sheepishly. “You are right, I am exhausted, and I am pushing myself too far, but I don’t know what else to do. We have to get to Westmoria, and we are less than two hours away. I believe I can make it.”
“Ride with me, please. I am sure we can go in from the side. I haven’t visited the estate in many years, but I believe there is a pretty grouping of trees all around it, and a side door where I can find the housekeeper to get you a room. We can ride in away from the front of the house, and no one will see us. The clouds are gathering again, and it is dreadfully cold. I doubt anyone will be outside.”
Dracia sighed and slowed her horse. She knew it was foolish to continue as is, and she wanted to stop Leal from worrying. “Very well,” said Dracia. “But if it seems anyone is walking the grounds, we will stop, and I will remount Aarit.”
“Sure,” said Leal stopping his horse and looking behind him at Lexine and Galen. “If you are awake at that point and able, you can remount that great big beast of yours.”
Dracia fell asleep quickly laying against Leal as she held on to him. He seemed pleased to have won their small battle, and it was much warmer against him. She dozed off and on, aware of him speaking with Lexine or Galen at times, but she would fall back asleep, not understanding what they were saying. Before she knew it, she was being taken off the horse, the cold wind that hit her as she left Leal’s warm embrace woke her up as Galen had grabbed her to steady her. She leaned against Galen for a moment, before pushing away from him and standing up straight.
Leal came to her side and offered him her arm, and she took it without arguing as the side door open and a few attendants came out, inquiring what was needed. Leal gave orders for their horses and to be shown to their rooms. She let Leal escort her up the side stairs to her room on the third floor, letting herself lean on him more than she usually would in public as she wasn’t sure she could make it on her own, and they didn’t meet anyone on the side stairs.
They left Galen and Lexine on the landing to the second floor, Leal telling Lexine to offer his father his excuses, and that he would be down when he could.
“If you can find Roderick, assure him all is well,” said Dracia as she looked at Galen. He nodded and Leal and Dracia walked up to the third floor.
“You will need to go downstairs soon, Leal,” said Dracia quietly as they reached the third floor. “Your father will be expecting you, and I doubt he will accept excuses sent by your sister easily.”
“Then he can come find me,” said Leal as he opened to door to the room they were told was Dracia’s. “I will not leave you alone when you are not feeling well.”
“I am just tired. If I can just rest for a while, I will be well enough to even come down to supper.”
Dracia walked into the room and saw that the fire was already burning in the fireplace. She took off her cloak and threw it over a chair close by the fire before sitting down heavily on the other chair found there. Leal walked over to her trunk that had been brought to the room, opening it and rifling through it until he found a nightgown.
“I can call in an attendant to see to me,” said Dracia, laying her head back against the chair. “You really should go downstairs.”
“You will not send me away, not until I see you in bed and asleep,” said Leal walking over to her. “I don’t know if it is because we are getting so closed to Navalia or all we found out about my mother, but I am finding it hard to be away from you. I am growing tired of having to pretend to others.”
“I am as well,” admitted Dracia. “The thought of watching you by Lilith’s side as others celebrate your so called betrothal makes my stomach turn.”
Dracia took Leal’s hand and stood, him handing her the nightgown as he moved behind her and started undoing her buttons down the back of her black dress.
“Whatever happens just remember you are the one who has my promises and my love,” he said as he bent down and kissed the back of her neck. “Nothing will ever change either of those things.”
Dracia changed as swiftly as she could with Leal’s help, him looking at her with concern at a few of the bruises on her side and back, but she brushed them off knowing she had fared far worse. After pulling the nightgown over her head he led her to the bed, pulling back the covers for her.
“Now, I am well settled,” she said as she turned slightly on her side to look at him standing by her. “Go clean up a bit and go downstairs and talk to your father. I would be interested to know what he has to say about your mother.”
Leal sat down softly on the bed. “I am not sure what do say to him at this point. What if he knew what we would find? What if he has been a part of seeing her treated so?”
“You will have to figure it out somehow. You are clever, Leal. I hate that you have to be sneaky with your father, unable to trust him, but you should do what you must to find out what you need from the king.”
“It would be easier if you were by my side,” said Leal. “You know you are far cleverer than me.”
“You are plenty clever, my prince, and I will be talking to the king myself tonight. If you need an intelligent woman to help you, have your sister join you in questioning your father. Lexine is smart enough to help you navigate any conversation you might have with him.”
“You should sleep for a while. If you are hungry, I can see to some food being brought to you.”
“No, I would just like to lie still for a while,” said Dracia as she pulled up the covers higher and closed her eyes.
Sleep claimed her very quickly, and she had almost fallen into the darkness of a deep sleep when she heard a knock at her door. Her eyes flew open and sat up slightly in her bed as she looked up at Leal still sitting by her side.
“Perhaps you should hide,” said Dracia quietly.
He shook his head and called out, “Who is there?” as Dracia tried to hush him.
“It is Roderick,” said the voice on the other side of the door causing Dracia to sink back down into the bed in relief.
Leal walked over to the door and opened it, Roderick entering quickly.
“Dracia, are you well?” asked Roderick with extreme concern as he made his way over to the bed.
“I am fine, Roderick, just a little tired and sore,” answered Dracia as Roderick looked down at her.
He turned to Leal and asked. “What happened?”
“We ran into some trouble on the road,” answered Leal walking over to stand by Roderick. “A decent sized group of fighters, though we aren’t sure who they were.”
“Where you injured?” asked Roderick as he looked back down at Dracia.
“No, not really. I was attacked by the Navalians in a way I hadn’t experienced, and it caused me to fall off of Aarit, but that is all.”
“That is all?” asked Roderick. “This happened as you were fighting? You could have easily been killed.”
“But I wasn’t. I believe your brother fought well, and Leal came and ended it though I had told him to run.”
“I wasn’t going to leave you, Dracia,” said Leal.
“You should now. Take Roderick with you and explain what happened, and then go see your father. I am too tired to go into the details of it all,” said Dracia as she turned back over and closed her eyes.
“I am not sure you should be alone,” said Roderick. “I can sit here with you, and wait until later to hear what happened.”
“No, you want to know now. I know you. You will sit here and fret unless you hear it all. I am fine; I just want to sleep. Go with the prince, and he can tell you all. Come back in a few hours and make sure I am awake to dress for dinner.”
“Are you sure, Dracia,” said Leal taking her hand.
“Yes, go do what you need to do. I will be fine,” said Dracia, truly wanting them both to leave so she could sleep.
She felt Leal take her hand and kiss it gently before letting it go as she drifted off. Whatever they may have said after that was lost to her.
She awoke on her own a few hours later, seeing that the light coming through her window was dim and weak. She wondered if it really was almost evening, or if the clouds had become darker during the day. Either way she believe it was time to get up if she truly was going to go to supper. She did feel more rested though she was sore, and her head ached slightly. Still, she rose from the bed and called for an attendant to see to her dirty uniform and cloak. After the attendant left, she slowly prepared herself for an evening downstairs, going into the small washroom attached to her room, and then pulling out her other uniform from her trunk. She had just finished braiding her hair when there was a knock at the door.
“Enter,” she called as she sat down in one of the chairs by the fireplace. Roderick opened the door and walked in.
“I see you are already up. I hope you are feeling better,” said Roderick walking over to where she sat. She pointed to the chair next to her, and he sat down.
“I am, thank you. Did the prince tell you everything that happened?” she asked.
“Yes, between him and Galen, I think I have the full story as much as anyone could. It sounds like an eventful trip.”
“It was. I haven’t had any messages so that means no one found out who those men were that attacked us.”
“This attack doesn’t seem random does it?” asked Roderick. “For the four of you to be attacked on a desolate road as you were traveling on your own, it couldn’t just have been a coincidence.”
“No, I don’t believe so, but how did anyone know we would be alone. Do you think someone is watching the royal traveling party?”
“Or someone in the group is relaying information to someone,” said Roderick.
“But if it is someone in our group, how would they pass information on so quickly? A message would take too long,” said Dracia.
“And what of your attack? The worst attack you have ever had just happened to hit you in a middle of a battle? That is a little too convenient, don’t you think?”
“But how would anyone in Navalia know what is happening here amongst us? I know I have some kind of link with Princess Lilith, but she can’t see what I am doing, can she?” asked Dracia, thinking if that were true there would be plenty of other times Lilith would have made sure she was incapacitated.
“I don’t know, but it all seems very suspicious in a way where it all must be connected,” said Roderick. He paused for a second. “I heard about the queen, as well. That must have been hard for the prince and princess to experience.”
“It was, though she was better than we expected. She is altered, but at least she seems mostly healthy. She knows who she is, and who her family is. That is better than we feared.”
“Still, it seems she was sent to the summer palace to be medicated for no reason, and left to be forgotten,” said Roderick. “What could be the real reason?”
“I am not sure except to keep her out of the way, but whoever is behind this could have just killed her. I don’t know why they chose to keep her medicated and subdued most of the time. Thank the gods she hadn’t had her medicine for a while before we got there. Of course, Galen might have figured it out, I have no doubt. You brother is quite brilliant.”
“Do you believe the king knows, Dracia? Do you think he is behind keeping the queen medicated, altering who she is?”
“I don’t know. Leal was going to try to find something out this afternoon, but who knows if he was successful,” said Dracia. She looked up on the mantle at the clock found there. “We should be heading down, most people will be gathering for supper.”
“You sure you are up for supper tonight, Dracia?” asked Roderick. “I could have some food brought up and eat here with you.”
“No, I want to see my father and brother. I am sure they are worried.”
“They are, and your mother asked about you as well. She seemed very concerned for you.”
“Her sudden interest in me is another mystery, but not one I have time to work out right now. Let’s go down, Roderick. I want to speak with the king at some point tonight,” said Dracia as she stood up.
“You will be careful, won’t you? Between what you have found out, and being less than four days from Navalia, I wouldn’t like you to put yourself into further danger,” said Roderick as he stood as well.
“I will try to be careful, but no matter what I will find out the truth of what is happening,” said Dracia as she walked to the door, Roderick following behind her.
She spent the time before dinner reassuring her father and brother that all was well.
“Dracia, are you truly well?” asked her father as he came up to her when she entered the large drawing room where everyone was gathered.
“Yes, of course, father,” said Dracia as she took his hand and leaned up to kiss his cheek. “I was a little tired from our journey, and I had some messages to attend to after we got back. Life in the Sentinel still goes on with the Disciplines as we travel. I do have to check in with my Upper Elites.”
“We were just worried when you didn’t come down with the prince, princess, and Galen Ellis,” said Colm looking at Dracia. “You do look a little tired, sister.”
Dracia laughed. “That is not a very noble thing to say to lady, Colm,” said Dracia teasingly. “It is bad enough I am dressed in black amongst all these lovely colored gowns, but to say I look tired is the final blow.”
He smiled at her. “I didn’t say you looked ill or ragged, Dracia. Your eyes just seem a little tired.”
“You know how it is sleeping in strange beds. I suppose I haven’t slept as well as I usually do, lately,” said Dracia.
“So how was the queen?” asked her father.
“She was well, and seemed to be about to go on a journey. I am glad we caught her so she could see her children. The prince and princess enjoyed spending time with her,” said Dracia.
“I thought I heard the Lord of Westmoria talk of some problems up towards the summer palace. Did that involve you?” asked Lord Arwel.
Dracia paused not sure how much to divulge here in the drawing room when anyone could be listening. She was also ashamed to admit she wasn’t sure how much of the tale she should trust to her father. “Yes, but it wasn’t much, just some thieves looking to rob someone on the road.”
“They ran into the wrong person then,” said Colm laughing. “You do have to feel bad for them, thinking they could easily take four people, two of them women, to find themselves face to face with the High Captain of the Sentinel.”
“Indeed,” said Dracia, forcing a smile on her face.
Her mother was not as easy to put off as her father and brother.
“Dracia, you look practically dead on your feet,” said her mother as they stood together by the window.
“I feel fine mother, but I appreciate your concern for my appearance,” said Dracia as she spotted Leal looking at her as he walked into the room.
“Really, Dracia, must you take everything I say so personally. I was only trying to show my concern. I hope your trip wasn’t too strenuous for you. I don’t think the king liked the prince and princess traveling to the summer palace.”
“I don’t presume to know the king’s business or that of the prince or princess,” said Dracia. “I only do as I am asked by the royal family.”
Her mother took her hand and pulled her away from the window to the corner of the room. “Dracia, I am your mother, and I know more about you than you believe. I am very sure you are much involved with the business of the royal family, especially the prince. This charade you and the prince are putting on, is not working on me. You can feign indifference towards him all you like, but I know the truth. What’s more is I am sure others will see it soon, as he cannot keep his eyes off of you. Even now he watches your every move.”
“What do you want me to say, mother?”
“I want you to tell me the truth. How long has this been going on? Has he made you some kind of promise? Do you have an arrangement? I would hate to see your hurt, and I don’t know how you won’t be, seeing where we are going and for what reason.”
Dracia looked down for a moment. “I am sure of the choices I have made.”
Her mother stared at her before putting on a smile as Leal walked over to join them.
“Good evening, High Captain, Lady Owena,” said Leal as he bowed to them. “I trust you were able to rest after our short trip, High Captain.”
“Yes, your highness, I am quite refreshed. I was just telling my mother that all went well on our trip. I am sure you were happy to see the queen.”
“I was, thank you,” said Leal smiling at Dracia and then her mother. “Lady Owena, I have some things to discuss with the High Captain if you don’t mind.”
“No, of course not. It seems you are quite dependent on my daughter and the service she provides you.”
“I am. As you know the High Captain is essential to the kingdom,” said Prince Leal as he looked at Dracia.
“I do know it, and I hope you appreciate all she does for the kingdom and you, if you don’t mind me saying it, your highness,” said Lady Owena as she watched both Dracia and Leal.
“I can think of no one I appreciate more in all the land.”
“I hope we all find that to be true, your highness,” replied Lady Owena as she curtseyed and then turned and left them.
“What was that all about?” asked Leal quietly.
“It seems my mother has caught on about us just as I thought,” said Dracia watching her mother walk away.
“Will that be a problem?” asked Leal.
“No, I don’t believe it will. Now, what did you wish to speak of? Did you talk to your father?”
“I did, briefly. He didn’t seem in a mood for chatting. He only asked if our trip was safe, and if we enjoyed our visit. I tried to see him alone, but he refused.”
“I am going to talk to him after dinner. I need to report to him on our trip, after all. I will see what I can find,” said Dracia.
“Are you feeling up to even being down here?” asked Leal looking at her closely.
“I am, and please don’t tell me I look tired. I am going to gain a complex on my looks this evening if one more person says it.”
Dinner was as interesting as one can be surrounded by so many lords and ladies who had already shared all of the chatter they could for the day. Dracia found that she was hungry, so she concentrated on eating and keeping an eye on the king. She watched as he pulled out a flask from his coat pocket and poured it into his glass. She had noticed he was often drinking from his flask on the trip, and she wondered what it contained. She had never known him to be one who overindulged in alcohol and to be truthful, he never seemed drunk on the trip.
“What are you thinking, Dracia?” asked Roderick quietly as he ate next to her.
“I hardly know, and even if I did, I could not say so here, but I am considering something,” said Dracia whispering back to him.
She continued to watch the king as he ate and talked to her mother sitting next to him. He refilled his cup two more times, but seemed to not be affected by whatever it was. At one point she looked over at Leal who seemed to be watching her watch the king. He gave her a small questioning look to which she only raised one eyebrow.
After dinner, she mixed around with the lords and ladies, and her Elites making idle talk. She spoke with Darron for one moment, but he seemed to want to avoid much contact with her. She let it go for the time being, knowing she had other matters to deal with at the moment. She was getting tired, and her head was hurting a bit worse, but she did not want to leave until she had figured out what was bothering her about the king.
She finally found him alone for a moment by the far window as he drank from his flask. She hurriedly walked over to him, curtseying before him.
“High Captain,” said the king. “I am glad you brought my son and daughter back safe from their foolish trip.”
“I am glad we all made it back as well, your majesty, but I don’t know if I would call the trip foolish,” said Dracia as she looked around to see if anyone was coming near.
“It was foolish, and a waste of your time as well. I knew what they would find there, and now they know the truth.”
“And what truth is it you speak of?” asked Dracia, daring to take a step closer to him.
“That their mother is lost to them forever. I have tried to shield them, but I suppose they had to see for themselves,” said the king taking another drink.
“I don’t know where you have gotten your information, but I found the queen to be very lucid. She was a little out of sorts to be sure, but she knew us all very well, except for Galen, but she didn’t know him to begin with.”
“Is this some cruel joke, High Captain?” asked the king softly and angrily.
“No, I would never joke about Leal and Lexine’s mother in that way,” said Dracia quietly. “I am telling you, the queen, your wife, knows who she is, and wonders why she was left all alone. At least she did while we were present, I am not sure about the other times.” Dracia paused for a moment. “How well do you know the healer taking care of her?”
“Well enough,” said the king. “A trusted friend found her for me. Whatever it was you saw, High Captain, must have been some momentary fluke. I am sure the queen is quite unwell, and will not recover permanently.” The king took yet another swig, seeming to empty his small flask, but he pulled out another. “Now, I think you and I are done talking, High Captain.”
“No, I don’t believe we are, your majesty,” said Dracia blocking his way as he moved forward.
“You are overstepping your place,” said the king a litter louder than a whisper.
“Is there a problem, father?” asked Leal.
Dracia looked over at her side surprised as she had not even heard Leal come up by her.
“The High Captain is talking nonsense, and I will not hear it,” said the king. “Whatever it is she or you thinks you saw at the summer palace cannot be what she says it is.”
Dracia watched as the king took another small drink.
“What are you drinking, your majesty?” asked Dracia as she rubbed her head. She was feeling very tried, and her head was starting to spin. Was it getting colder?
“I don’t see how that is your concern,” said the king sharply. “You are very insubordinate tonight. I have half a mind to send you back to Winsdell, and deal with your later.”
“Father,” said Leal harshly as Dracia put her hand to her head again, she knew what was happening. She fell forward into the king, pushing her hand out to knock the flask from his hand.
“Why you,” began the king angrily, as Leal said her name urgently, reaching out and grabbing her to pull her to him.
“I am fine,” said Dracia, whispering to him as she moved her hand in front of her chest to purge the magic working within her. “Grab your father’s flask and give it to Galen. Tell him to see if he can tell what is in it. Then find Malven. Tell him to come to my room as soon as he can.”
Leal steadied her, and gave her a small nod.
“I am so sorry, your majesty,” said Dracia looking at the king. “I am afraid I am more tired from the journey than I thought. I hope you will excuse me.”
Dracia turned to see a few people looking at her, including Roderick who was walking towards her, concern etched on his features. She met him and took his arm.
“I am well. Come with me upstairs. We have some things to speak of,” said Dracia as she led him through the room.
They walked quickly upstairs, avoiding talking to anyone else in the room. After shutting the door to her bedroom, Roderick turned to look at Dracia.
“I felt a small attack of Navalian magic, but I took care of it. More importantly I think whoever was keeping the queen medicated has been doing the same to our king,” said Dracia.
Roderick’s eyebrows both raised. “What do you mean?”
“Have you not noticed our king always drinking from his flask on this trip? He is constantly drinking from it, but he never seems drunk. Back in Winsdell, every time I have met with him, I have seen him drinking some dark colored liquid. I assumed it was liquor, but now I believe it may be something else.”
“What you think it might be?”
“I am not sure, but I think it might contain something to control him in some way just like the queen was kept subdued. He has changed in the past few years. I was around him often as a friend of Leal’s and Lexine’s. My family traveled with the Cassendars on every trip, and the king was a much different man back then. He never would have ignored the problems in his kingdom for as long as he did, and even if he did think Leal being with me was a bad idea, he never would have threatened me.”
“The king has threatened you?” asked Roderick, alarmed.
“Oh a few times,” said Dracia waving her hand. “I was never that worried knowing who my father is, and my position, but that isn’t important right now. I believe the king has been altered in some way by someone for purposes that cannot be good.”
There was a knock at the door, and Roderick looked at Dracia.
“That will be Malven, let him in,” said Dracia as she sat down in front of the fireplace.
Roderick shook his head at her before walking over and opening the door, letting Malven come into the room.
“High Captain, you wanted to see me?” asked Malven walking over to Dracia.
“Yes, have a seat here beside me, please. Roderick, pull up another chair and join us,” said Dracia.
Both men did as she asked and looked at her expectantly.
“Malven, Leal has told me you have a way to get information from the king’s attendants,” said Dracia.
“Yes, High Captain, I can usually find most things out from them. Some of them don’t mind talking at all. Others take a little persuasion.”
“What do you know about the liquid the king has been keeping in his flasks on this trip? I believe he might also have some in his study back in Winsdell.”
“I haven’t really thought much about it, but I believe he has it sent to him from somewhere,” said Malven.
“Do you know from where?” asked Dracia.
“No, not for certain, although… but that would be just jumping to conclusions,” said Malven carefully.
“What is it? What would be jumping to conclusions?” asked Dracia.
“The king did receive a large box from the oracle who visits with him from time to time. I don’t know what was in the box, but I do know it wasn’t the first he has received from her.”
“Could you find out what was in that box; if it is the drink the king has been taking?” asked Dracia.
“I can try if you wish. It may take me a few days,” said Malven.
“Please do, but be careful. I am not sure what is all happening, but none of it seems good,” said Dracia.
“I am always careful,” said Malven, standing up. “I will start tonight, seeing what I can find out. I will let you know as soon as I know something.”
“Thank you, Malven. If you see your prince, tell him I am very open to speaking with him tonight, but I understand if it is not possible,” said Dracia.
“I am sure he will find any way he can to make sure it is possible,” said Malven with a smile. “I am sorry, High Captain, I tend to overstep at times.”
“You tell the truth, which I value very much,” said Dracia. “Also, I have been sitting here asking you to do things, knowing full well you aren’t my attendant. I think I can handle a little impropriety in exchange for your services.”
Malven’s smile grew. “I have told you before I serve you as well as the prince, High Captain. I am happy to do whatever I can for you. I will see what I can find,” said Malven as he bowed and walked to the door, letting himself out.
“I suppose you trust him?” asked Roderick motioning with his head towards the door Malven had just walked through.
“Malven? The king’s gods yes, I trust him. I trust him as much as I trust you,” said Dracia. “If he had wanted to hurt me or the prince in some way, he could have done it a long time ago. He probably knows more about me than I even realize.”
“What do you need me to do?” asked Roderick.
“Keep your eye on Darron. He was avoiding me for some reason tonight. Double your watch over him when we are in Navalia. I am not sure what he is up to, but I think he is up to something.”
“I had already planned to watch him well. Is there anything else you need?”
’Your support, and for you to tell me if you think I am going mad, and am wrong about all of this.”
“You always have my support, and I think you have great reason to suspect something is wrong with the king.”
“You should go get some rest. We will have some long weeks ahead of us. Whatever happens once we reach Navalia, I know it will not be easy,” said Dracia as she rubbed her head with her hand.
“We will get through it, Dracia,” said Roderick leaning forward. “I will see you through it all myself if I have to.”
“You are much too good to me, Roderick,” said Dracia reaching out and taking his hand. “I did miss you last evening. Your brother did well fighting, but I longed to have you by my side when we were attacked. I felt like my right arm was missing.”
“It was torture, waiting here for you to get back. I don’t know why, but I had a bad feeling something would happen. I know why you asked me to stay, but I hope you sending me away from your side will not become a common occurrence.”
“No, I will need you close to me in the fights to come, and unfortunately I know there will be plenty.”
“I will gladly serve at your side,” said Roderick as he gave her hand a soft kiss.
Dracia was changed and in bed by the time her door opened, and Leal walked in. He walked over and sat down on the bed next to her, taking her hand.
“Where you able to get the flask to Galen?” asked Dracia.
“Yes, I assumed you wanted him to check what was in it,” said Leal.
“I do. I don’t know if I am correct, but I think someone might be medicating your father the same way they did your mother. I don’t know all the details, but once we find out if I am correct, we can go from there,” said Dracia.
“Malven told me what you asked him to do. I think I can figure out the rest of your thoughts. It would explain his odd behaviors this last few years. I would like to think it is someone causing him to act this way, and that I just did not want to accept my father has always been as cold and uncaring as he has seemed lately.”
“I do believe he has changed in some ways, but we will know soon enough. I have faith in Galen to figure out what your father has been drinking.”
“How are you feeling?” asked Leal as he reached out and stroked her cheek.
“I am tired and sore, but it is not unbearable,” said Dracia, grabbing his hand with hers and kissing his palm. “Do you think it is safe for you to lie with me for a while?”
“Safe or not, I will not leave you tonight. I meant it when I said it is becoming unbearable to be apart from you,” said Leal as he picked up the locket that lay against her chest and held it. “I am finding it impossible to leave you at all tonight.”
Leal leaned down and kissed Dracia while holding the locket between them. He pulled back slightly and looked into her brown eyes with his shining bright green. He spoke quietly against her lips in his old family tongue. “You are the only way for me.”
Dracia responded back in a whisper. “And I will always walk with you.” She pulled him down to her and spent the night forgetting about the uncertainties that surrounded them.