The Sentinel of Cassendar: Navalia

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Chapter 17

Roderick looked over at Dracia as they approached the city of Port Venala. She looked as she usually did before a battle, serious, determined, and confident. He supposed in a way they were going to battle. They were definitely walking into enemy territory, and Dracia had already been attacked several times. As still and sure as she looked, Roderick imagined there were many thoughts and emotions happening inside of her. He knew he was having a hard time keeping in his own worries and fears. His stomach felt like a tight knot that could never be unworked. He had no idea what the next few days would hold in Port Venala, let alone the next few weeks.

Roderick took a breath and saw it form in the air. He had been cold for most of the trip, but the crisp air of the mountains of Navalia had been unlike anything he had experienced. It had cut right through his fur lined cloak and heavy winter uniform, making him continually shiver. The cold air had made it seem hard to breath as he took it in, always feeling like he needed more, yet feeling more breathless with every breath.

Now they entered the principal city of Navalia which sat on the coast of the great sea. The wind coming off the water felt even colder than the mountains, but it seemed easier to breathe. It was snowing lightly as the entered the outer part of the city. The cobble stone road had been cleared of any earlier snow, but it was starting to cover again from the new flakes that fell. The buildings around them were mostly small homes from what Roderick could tell. Tidy little dwellings with chimneys in which great puffs of smoke emerged. Each dwelling had a snow filled yard with a small stone wall blocking it from the road.

As they rode on, the area changed from the tidy homes to large close together buildings. Roderick noticed it was still unusually clean for a place such as this with poor folk living spaces and shops all around. People had started gathering outside the buildings, crowding together on the edge of the road to watch the royal procession from Lanoxan go by.

He supposed they did look impressive. Many carriages all lines up carrying lords and ladies, attendants, luggage, and supplies. Elites dressed in black and silver on their horses riding along, looking very striking against the white snowy background of the city. At the front, the grand royal carriage which carried the royal family riding along with the High Captain and her two seconds leading the way.

Roderick saw many eyes follow Dracia on her black horse. He wasn’t surprised, she did look remarkable. She sat straight in the saddle, using one hand to guide Aarit. Her hair was done in perfect crown braids with only two strands having come lose in the front, both blowing slightly. Her large brown eyes looked bright against her perfect fair skin, slightly pink from being hit by the cold air. Her great black cloak with silver stitching on the edges flowed behind her looking like a royal robe waving in the wind. Many looked at her, but she did not look around. Her eyes stayed forward, seeming to give a hard stare to the white and blue Winter Palace in the middle of the city.

Roderick looked up at the large palace. It wasn’t as large as the high palace in Winsdell, but it seemed much more imposing. It seemed to be made of very light color stone, giving it it’s white color. It had several, long skinny towers coming off the main building each with light blue color roofs that stood out against the gray clouds that hung overhead. As they got closer to the palace the city changed again to large manor houses, handsome homes that looked to be made of the same stone as the palace. Each with a light blue roof just like the palace as well. Roderick could see a few people coming out of the homes, looking at the procession as it went by. They looked to be attendants from the manor houses.

They entered a large stone and iron gate, two towers standing on each side. Three guards stood on each of the towers looking down at the processional as it made its way through the open gate. From there they crossed a stone bridge that was over a waterway that seemed to come from the sea. Roderick could see that the sea was just behind the palace. He could smell the saltwater strongly from there, and he swore he could hear the waves crash against the rocks of its shore even over the clopping of the horses’ hooves of their traveling group.

They road up to the front of the castle, a large open area that was paved in the same cobble stones of the city. In the very center of the space was a simple well surrounded by a few winter roses that seemed to be blooming despite the cold temperatures and snow.

The processional stopped as the royal carriage pulled up to the front steps of the palace. Dracia turned her horse and circled back, stopping very near the royal carriage, sitting at attention. Roderick and Darron followed her, stopping just behind her to her right and to her left. Roderick looked up at the front steps of the castle and saw that the door opened, and out stepped King Arnar, Prince Fannar, and Princess Lilith. All dressed in long light blue, fur trimmed cloaks.

Two attendants came and opened the royal carriage. Prince Leal stepped out and turned, holding out his hand to Princess Lexine who stepped out behind him. They both moved to each side, the prince looking up at Dracia as she continued to stare straight ahead. The king came out slowly and carefully. He walked a few steps from the carriage and stopped. His children both went to stand at his side, Princess Lexine taking his arm and smiling up at him.

The Navalian royal family walked down the stairs slowly until they were facing the Lanoxan royal family on the same level.

“Greetings, King Rommel, Prince Leal, and Princess Lexine,” said King Arnar. “Welcome to Port Venala and Navalia. I trust your journey went well.”

“Yes,” said King Rommel with a wide smile. “It was very nice, but it will be good to rest for a few days here. I don’t think I could take another minute of my rear sitting in that gods forsaken carriage.”

Roderick bit back a smile and looked to the Navalian king whose expression didn’t betray any feelings. Prince Fannar looked somewhat amused, and Princes Lilith had a slight sneer on her face.

“You should come inside,” said Princess Lilith, her sneer quickly becoming a smile. “We have rooms prepared for all of you, and supper is not far off. You will want to wash yourself and dress.”

“Yes,” said Prince Leal. “I am sure everyone in our party is ready to get inside somewhere warm.”

“Come then, my prince,” said Princess Lilith. “Our attendants are ready to show your family and court to their rooms, but I would like to walk with you. I have missed you.”

Prince Leal gave a smile that Roderick was not used to seeing on his face. It looked almost vicious. “I will happily go with you, Princess Lilith. I believe we have much to speak of.” He walked up to meet her and offered her his arm. She hesitated a moment before taking it and walked with him into the palace.

King Rommel and Princess Lexine followed, the princess giving a glance to Dracia. King Arnar walked with King Rommel into the palace while Prince Fannar walked towards Dracia. Roderick moved his horse up to stand even with Dracia, looking down at the prince as he approached.

“High Captain,” said Fannar, giving a bow. “It is good to see you again. I have longed for your interesting conversations.”

“Have you?” asked Dracia as she looked over to her family’s carriage, watching her mother, father, and brother walk around, looking up at the palace.

“We have attendants coming who will see to your horses if you would like to dismount. I can show you to your room,” said Fannar, continuing to look at Dracia.

“I need to oversee the court and my fellow Elites until they are safely inside,” said Dracia finally looking down at Fannar.

“Come, High Captain, all are safe here. We are surrounded by Navalian soldiers, and palace guards. I would like it if you would come inside and get warm, you and your seconds. I insist upon it.”

Dracia sighed, patting Aarit on his neck. She looked over at Darron who was smiling at her, and then to Roderick. He stared at her, wondering what was going through her mind. She raised one eyebrow at Roderick and put on a smile, turning back to Fannar.

“I cannot refuse the chance to let these two gentleman get warm. I am sure they are quite frozen, not being used to your winter weather,” said Dracia as she moved to dismount. She slid gracefully from her saddle and walked to stand in front of Fannar.

“Are you not bothered by our cold climate, Captain?” asked Fannar.

“Not at all,” said Dracia as Roderick and Darron jumped down from their own horses. “In fact, I find it quite invigorating. The snow in particular is quite beautiful. It makes everything look fresh and clean.”

“I am glad you have had a good first impression of our city. I am very hopeful you will like all you see here,” said Fannar as he held out his arm to her.

Dracia hesitated for one moment before she carefully took Fanar’s arm. He pulled her a little closer to him and started walking her towards the palace. Darron and Roderick followed her, Roderick wondering what she could be up to.

They walked into the large entry hall of the Winter Palace. It seemed a cold, forbidding room to Roderick. He wondered if it was made to look unwelcoming with its white marble floor and light gray walls. There were only a few portraits hung, one was a king wearing a long blue fur trimmed robe. The other two women wearing large diamond tiaras dressed all in white. Above them hung a huge chandelier with hundreds of candles burning, lighting up the stark space.

Fannar walked Dracia to the stairs as Roderick heard other people from outside coming in the front door. He and Darron followed Dracia and Fannar up the stairs until they hit the third floor landing. Three attendants stood there, dressed in deep blue.

Prince Fannar turned and looked at Darron and Roderick. “You will find your rooms down the right hall in the east wing. One of these attendants will show you to the first two blue and gray rooms,” said Fannar.

“Am I not on this floor as well?” asked Dracia.

“Oh no,” said Fannar. “You are one floor up with the rest of the high lords and ladies. You are the High Captain of the Sentinel, but you are also the daughter of the highest lord in your kingdom, and I will see you treated as such.”

“I would rather be closer to my Sentinel, your highness,” said Dracia with a sweet smile. “You must see how important it is.”

“You will not be far from them, just one floor up and the opposite wing. You will have to let me win this one, my lady, as the rooms are all set, and this floor is full. Now, I will tell your men that your room is in the west wing hall, four doors down on the right. There, now they can find you whenever they want,” said Fannar. “Come along, my lady. You will want time to rest, clean, and dress before dinner.”

Dracia looked at Roderick with a little concern. “Would you like me to come to your rooms before dinner, High Captain?” asked Roderick.

“Yes, Roderick. Come make sure I am dressed and ready soon. I do not wish to miss the festivities tonight.”

Fannar steered Dracia to the next flight of stairs and took her up. Roderick watched them ascend the stairs and come to the next landing. He kept watching her until Fannar had taken her down the hall to the left and out of sight.

“Well, it seems as if our High Captain has an admirer,” said Darron with a small laugh. “Perhaps there will be more than one wedding to celebrate soon.”

Roderick shook his head and nodded to one of the attendants. The attendant bowed and started walking as Roderick followed him.

“Come now, Roderick, would it be a bad thing for her? She would be the Queen of Navalia someday, and any problems she has as High Captain would be over.”

“She has no problems as our High Captain, Darron. We have already been through this, and you know my opinion.”

“She is a beautiful woman, Roderick, and very high born. You couldn’t think she would spend her whole life with you in the Sentinel, no matter how much you might want it.”

Roderick closed his eyes, and shook his head again. No, he did not think she would spend her whole life in the Sentinel, but he would not have her here in Navalia amongst these people. He would be happy to see her in Lanoxan as its future queen, with a man that loved her and knew her worth. Roderick would see her in the High Place of Winsdell, close to him where he could watch over her.

The attendant stopped by a door and opened it for Roderick. He walked in to find himself in a handsome room. It had a large fireplace where a fire already burned. In front of the fire were two large cushy chairs. Behind this was a large bed with a canopy and a small table on one side. There was a wardrobe and a door leading to a small washroom. Roderick sat down in front of the fire after the attendant assured him some water would be brought in, and the banquet would be in two hours.

Roderick watched the fire and thought of Dracia. What was she up to being so compliant with Fannar? The man had been awful to her. He had violated her and hurt her. Whatever it was, she must have had a plan, and he would be interested to hear it.

Roderick heard voices and steps in the hall outside. He walked to his door to open it to find the other Elites and his brother in the hall along with several attendants. Galen looked over at Roderick from across the hall as an attendant opened a door.

“How are you, Galen?” asked Roderick, looking at his brother.

“I am well, happy to be off a horse for a while,” said Galen. “I have some reading to do.”

Roderick nodded as Galen went into his room. Roderick’s large trunk was brought into his own room and left at the foot of his bed. A couple of attendants brought some water and filled up the tub in his washroom. Roderick spent some time in his tub, soaking his weary body, sore from days on a horse and sleeping in some questionable beds. He dried off and dressed in his clean uniform, stopping in front of the mirror to quickly check his hair.

Once he decided he looked presentable, he walked out of his room and to the fourth floor to check on Dracia. He went to the door Fannar had told him would be Dracia’s and knocked. He waited for several moments before it opened slightly and Dracia stuck her head out.

“Oh, thank the king’s gods, it’s you,” said Dracia opening the door and grabbing his arm. She dragged him into the room and shut the door behind them, letting Roderick go. He turned to look at her and felt his eyes widen.

She was dressed in a way that was different from anything he had ever seen her wear. It was a light blue flowing gown, very low cut. The sleeves were sheer and slit from the wrist to the elbow. The material gathered at her slim waist and flowed down along her long legs, barely covering the dainty slippers she wore. The material was not thick, and he could imagine if she stood in front of too much candlelight, you could see right through it. Roderick looked her up and down several times, not sure of what to say.

“I know, I look ridiculous, Roderick,” said Dracia throwing her hands down to her sides and walking over to the long mirror in her room. She fretted with her long hair that hung in waves around her. “I went to take a bath, and went I came out there were two attendants in here. They told me my uniforms were both sent to be cleaned, and that all my gowns were being seen to as they were too wrinkled to wear. I know it wasn’t true.

“They gave me this, saying Prince Fannar sent it for me as a gift. I don’t want to wear something he gave me. I am ready to play their game a little, but this is too far.” She turned and looked at her back. “Ugh, I do look ridiculous.”

Roderick walked to her and found his voice. “You do not look ridiculous, far from it. You look…” started Roderick.

“Indecent? Like a fool? Like some hill rolling trollop? Oh, this must have been his sister’s idea to made me seem an idiot.” asked Dracia.

“You look beautiful,” said Roderick. “I know it isn’t right what he did, but Dracia, I doubt Princess Lilith had anything to do with this. If she did, she is the fool. You always outshine her in every way, but with your wearing this, she could be standing right next to you and no one would even notice her.”

Dracia smiled at him. “You are sweet, but don’t you see. This is just another way of him marking me and making me feel weak. I wanted to go out there in my uniform, strong, and in control. How can I do it now?”

“Your clothes don’t make you strong, Dracia. Who you are is what makes you strong. Show them that no matter what they do, they cannot break you in anyway. When you walk out into their banquet hall, you will still be Lady Dracia Yates, the High Captain of the Sentinel, and daughter to the highest lord in the most powerful kingdom, and so much more.”

Dracia turned and looked at herself in the mirror. “Will you stay close to me, Roderick? At least for the first bit?”

“I will not leave your side all night if that is what your wish, High Captain,” said Roderick.

“We will see how it goes. I do have a part to play, and I will have to give Fannar at least some attention tonight,” said Dracia as she ran her fingers through one side of her hair.

“Why? asked Roderick loudly causing Dracia to turn around. “Why are you showing him any attention at all after what he did to you?”

Dracia smiled grimly. “We are in a very dangerous situation here, Roderick. I am not sure, but I believe what we have found out about the king and queen on our trip here could be related to Navalia. Fannar is my best chance to get any information from inside the royal family.

“There is also Leal to think about. No matter how good his intentions, he has entangled himself deeply with the Navalians. I am prepared to do whatever I have to do to get him out of here safely and away from Lilith.”

“Dracia, this is such a dangerous game you are playing. You know what this man did to you. What he could have done to you had Lord Ethen not showed up. You are putting yourself in too much danger.”

“Do you trust me, Roderick?”

“You know I do. I trust no one more than you,” said Roderick.

“Then you will have to trust I know what I am doing,” said Dracia as she adjusted her sleeves. “I was raised by a woman who knows how to work a royal court better than anyone. I know how far to push things, and when to pull back. I also know of Prince Fannar’s power now, and I have a way to defend myself from it.”

“What will Prince Leal say about this? I can’t imagine he will enjoy watching you spend time with Prince Fannar,” said Roderick.

“I will talk to Leal,” said Dracia waving a hand at Roderick. “He will fuss and complain worse than you, but in the end, he will see what I am doing is necessary, especially if he is going to spend his time antagonizing Lilith.”

“What do you want him to do? She just spent the past few months attacking you. He can’t let that go without some type of action.”

“No, but the best way to defeat the Navalians is going to be from the inside out. However Leal chooses to play this, I have many plans.”

“Are you going to tell me about these plans?” asked Roderick.

“Only when you need to know something,” said Dracia as she walked to his side. “Now, it’s time to go. Will you be so good as to escort me to the banquet hall? I am sure together we can find it somehow.”

Roderick sighed wanting to know more of what she was planning. The fact that she wouldn’t tell him, worried him greatly. He hoped in the end she wasn’t expecting to sacrifice herself in some way. No matter what promises he had made her about supporting her, he didn’t think he could let her cause herself harm.

Dracia gave him a small half smile with one eyebrow raised, and Roderick held his arm out to her. She took it and he pulled her close.

“I know you are my High Captain and I serve you, but I do hope you know what you are doing. If I find you are in any real danger, I can’t promise I won’t find a way to take you out of this palace and Navalia swiftly, to the deepest hell with your prince or any of the royals.”

Dracia laughed a little and shook her head. “You don’t mean it. I know you take your duty to the kingdom and the Cassendars very seriously. You have sworn an oath, and you will keep to that oath, but it is no matter. I know what I am doing. All will be well.”

Roderick looked at her before walking her to the door and opening it. He did swear an oath to put the Cassendars and the kingdom ahead of everything including his own life, but knowing his devotion to Dracia, he couldn’t say there wouldn’t be a time he wouldn’t break that oath.

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