The Sentinel of Cassendar: Navalia

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Chapter 18

Leal stood in the banquet hall of the Winter Palace next to his father, making sure to watch over the king. He seemed to be doing better handling the new drink this evening than he had yesterday. He still made interesting comments at times, but he appeared relaxed and in a very good mood. Leal and Lexine had agreed that one of them needed to be next to him at all times while in public to watch what he said and did.

Leal reached up and scratched his head under his crown. He did hate wearing the thing, even though he knew he shouldn’t. Dracia had told him he should be proud to wear his crown as it was a part of who he was. He believed her, but it didn’t make it any more comfortable. Perhaps he could talk to Malven of a way to pad it or position it in a way where it didn’t irritate his head so.

“Good evening, my prince, your majesty,” said a soft voice next to Leal.

Speaking of things that irritated his head. “Good evening, Princess Lilith,” said Leal without looking at her.

“I hope you both found time to rest from your journey before this welcome banquet,” said Lilith. Leal could feel her eyes on him.

“Oh, yes,” said the king. “My bed is so large I hardly knew what to do with myself. I rolled over the length of it twice and only found two disagreeable lumps.”

“I am sorry, your majesty,” said Lilith. “We could find you another room if you would like, or perhaps a different mattress?”

“No, there is no reason. It is just me in there so I can avoid the lumps as needed,” said the king. He turned to Leal. “The large bed did make me miss your mother, though. You said she was well when you saw her?”

“Yes, father,” said Leal looking at his father. “But she is away on an important trip for her health. You will see her soon.”

“Perhaps she will be at our wedding then, Prince Leal. I would dearly like it if your mother could be there,” said Lilith grabbing Leal’s hand.

“We shall see,” said Leal, squeezing the princess hand as his power responded and sent a hard jolt to her palm. She quickly let go of his hand, grabbing it with her other one and messaging it.

“I should probably go greet our other guests. Would you like to accompany me, my prince?”

“No, not at all,” said Leal crossing his arms. “You should go on, though. Don’t worry about finding me later. If I need something from you, I shall seek you out.”

She huffed quietly. “This isn’t a good start, my prince,” whispered Lilith as she turned slightly towards him. “You should remember what power I hold over someone dear to you.”

“As I told you earlier, she can more than handle whatever you throw at her,” said Leal.

“I might have to test that later,” said Lilith as she turned and walked off.

Leal closed his eyes for a moment, thinking he needed to find Dracia and watch her as much as he could. He would also find a way to go to her room tonight. He didn’t care who saw him. The whole palace could know he was sleeping in her bed each night for all he cared. The talk would not bother him. Maybe it would help speed things up and end this charade.

He had already had a talk with Lilith when he first arrived. She had put on a good act of graciousness in welcoming him. She almost did seem an exciting young lover seeing her betrothed after a long absence. Leal had not been in the mood for such games.

“You are really going to act like nothing untoward has happened?” Leal had asked as they walked into the palace together.

“What is it you have to accuse me of?” asked Lilith with a slight laugh.

“You know very well what you have done, and how she has suffered,” said Leal with a growl, not caring who heard him.

“I am sure I don’t know what you are talking about,” said Lilith as she led him up the stairs. “Who do you know that has been suffering? I hope they are not becoming ill. It is a usual thing in the winter.”

“Admit it or not, we both know what you have been doing, probably your brother as well. If you continue to try and hurt her in any way, I can and will find a way to stop it. I will go to any lengths I have to, including finding a way to end you.”

Lilith laughed. “You shouldn’t say such things, my prince, especially when you know you can’t follow through. I hold her life in my hands, and now she is in my palace amongst my people. If anything were to happen to me, do you not think I have not already given instructions of what should be done? You don’t even know what you have really walked into.

“Besides, I believe I have more to complain about than you. You are promised to me, but I hear you are spending your time with another. Once we make our promises to one another, you will have to quit such behavior, at least for a time. I have great plans for us, and I will need your full attention.”

They had reached the fifth floor of the main building by then, and Lilith led him to the right down a hallway. She stopped at a door near the end.

“Here are your rooms, my prince. Your father and sister are nearby, and your court is just below you. I will have your rooms and the rooms of your court watched at all times, for your safety. Any activities that may be seen, will be reported to me,” said Lilith with a smile.

“I don’t care what you are told about my activities,” said Leal looking down at the princess. “I will behave as I like and to my own code of honor.”

“And I will act according to mine,” said Princess Lilith, smiling even wider. She had turned and left him at that point.

Now she had dropped all pretenses and threatened Dracia openly. He hoped Dracia could fend off most attacks Lilith could throw at her. He would have to make sure Dracia knew she was being watched, and that there could be physical danger to her as well. He was sure Roderick would be on his guard, watching over his High Captain. Sometimes Roderick devotion and watchfulness of Dracia bothered Leal a little, but now he was grateful for it.

“Good evening, father, brother,” said Lexine as she walked up and stood in front of Leal and the king.

“Good evening, my precious daughter,” said the king happily. “You do look very well.”

“Thank you, father. You seem in a very good mood tonight,” said Lexine as she looked at Leal.

“Better than I have been in a while. I don’t know why, but I feel so light lately. Everything seems clearer and brighter. I suppose the pressures of the kingdom and worrying about this trip had gotten to me.”

“You are probably right, father, but all will be well now. Just find a way to relax and enjoy yourself,” said Leal as Lexine walked to the king’s other side.

Leal looked out over the room as the lords and ladies of both Lanoxan and Navalian entered. He tried to keep an eye out for Dracia, looking at every flash of black and silver he could see. He spotted Galen enter the room, wearing his Sentinel novice uniform and a black cloak.

“If you will both excuse me, I should greet some of our court,” said Lexine. “You don’t mind staying here with father, do you, Leal?”

“Not for a few minutes, Lexine. I can see most of the room here which suits me. Go see to our court. When you talk to your friend, tell him I wish to speak with him tomorrow morning. I will find him.”

“Very well,” said Lexine as she walked away.

“What friend is that, Leal?” asked the king looking around. “Has Lexine a special friend amongst the court? Hopefully, it is a male special friend. She has not shown any interest in any man that I have seen. I would like to see her settled well soon.”

“You don’t need to worry about Lexine,” said Leal. “She knows her own mind, and will make her own future.”

The stood in silence for a few minutes as Leal looked over the room. He was watching Prince Fannar as he too looked over the room. Leal could guess who he was looking for, and it made everything within him revolt. If he thought he could get one hand on her, or even come close to breathing the same air as her, Leal would show him how wrong he was. Leal was watching Fannar when he heard his father make a noise.

“Oh, good king’s gods, Leal, no wonder you are in love with the woman. Looking at her, I have quite forgotten why we are even here for you to marry this foreign princess,” said the king.

Leal quickly followed his father’s stare to see Roderick escorting a woman wearing a Navalian style of dress. He looked at the woman and quickly realized it was Dracia. What was she doing dressed as she was? He couldn’t say she didn’t look well. The dress and her hair falling down her shoulders suited her. He had seen her in far less clothing, but there was something about the sight of a beautiful woman dressed so that was very tempting.

Leal watched her as she scanned the room, her eyes coming to rest on him. He tried to convey with his eyes and a slight head motion that she should come to him. He had some questions for her. She seem to understand him because she leaned up and whispered in Roderick’s ear. He nodded and then turned to walk towards the Leal and the king.

Leal followed her progression in the room when she was stopped by Fannar who greeted her with a deep bow. Leal felt his eyes narrow as Dracia let go of Roderick and gave a pretty curtsey to the prince. He said something, and she smiled. She even lightly touched his arm. What was she doing? He was about to chance leaving his father and go to her, when she took a hold of Fannar’s arm and they both walked towards Leal and the king with Roderick following them.

“Good evening, your majesty, your highness,” said Dracia as she stood in front of Leal, giving a curtsey.

“High Captain,” said the king bowing. “You look positively enchanting tonight. Isn’t she absolutely captivating, Leal?”

He held out his hand towards Dracia. She let go of Fannar and gave the king her hand as she glanced as Leal. The king bent over it and kissed it softly. He kept a hold of it as he addressed her.

“I am so used to seeing you all dressed up in your severe blacks and silvers that I had quite forgotten what an absolute beauty you are.”

“She is very beautiful,” said Fannar looking down at Dracia. “But I don’t think even her Sentinel uniform hides it. I find my eyes drawn to her no matter what she is wearing.”

“It is a shame my uniform wasn’t available tonight, nor my other gowns either,” said Dracia with a smile. “Your very skilled attendants told me all my clothes needed cleaning or pressing. I suppose I have you to thank for seeing to my wardrobe tonight.”

“I just wanted you to feel welcomed,” said Prince Fannar. “I wanted to show you how well you fit in with the Navalians. Our style of dress does suit you well.”

Leal could not take it anymore. He had to talk to her, alone. “High Captain, there is something I need to speak with you about, some Sentinel business. I hope you will oblige me with a moment of your time, in private,” said Leal looking at her with a hard stare.

“If you think it cannot wait, I will speak with you, but I would hate to leave your father unattended.”

“It cannot wait, and Roderick can see to the king while we are gone,” said Leal as he held out his hand to her.

Dracia looked at Roderick who nodded slightly before she turned to Fannar. “I hope I will see you again tonight so we can continue to catch up, your highness.”

“Of course, my lady,” said Fannar as he smiled at her. “I will find you after the supper.” Fannar looked her up and down once and then turned and walked away.

Leal took Dracia’s hand, and he put it on his arm. “I will be back soon, father. Roderick will keep your company.”

Before the king could respond, Leal walked Dracia to the back door of the room, and into a hallway. He looked around, wondering where to go, when he saw a door at the end. He opened it to find a small courtyard, with a light covering of snow. He walked Dracia out and closed the door behind them.

“What are you doing?” asked Leal letting go of Dracia’s arm and standing in front of her

“At the moment, I am freezing. How do the Navalians dress like this in such a climate?” asked Dracia as she crossed her arms and rubbed against her sheer sleeves.

“Dracia, you know what I mean,” said Leal with impatience.

“If you are referring to my dress, I really had no choice. My clothes were all taken from me and sent to be cleaned and seen to. All I had to wear was this dress that Fannar sent. I couldn’t just skip this event. What else could I do?”

“Call for my sister to send you some clothes? I am sure Lexine would have had something that would work for you,” said Leal. “You chose to wear clothes Fannar sent to you. You are choosing to flirt and smile with him, and I want to know why.”

Dracia took Leal’s hand and held it with both of hers. She sighed as she looked down. “There are so many things happening that we don’t know the cause of. Your father and mother have both been medicated and controlled. Lilith is determined to marry you though she knows you have no good feelings towards her, and I don’t believe she cares for you either. I believe something bigger than Navalian just wanting to unite with our kingdom is going on here, and I need to figure out what it is.

“As much as I don’t like it, Fannar is my best chance to get any information about what is going on. I don’t know if he has any real affection for me or if he plans to use me as well, but I can use either reason to my advantage.”

Leal grabbed her hand and pulled her too him. He reached up and ran his fingers through her long hair before holding her face softly.

“You cannot do this, Dracia. You are already in so much danger. Lilith has this link with you, and she will find a way to use it if she can. I know you have some way to protect yourself, but she has gotten through somehow before. She has already threatened me with your life, telling me she can get to you through your bond with her or through her own soldiers.”

“I have to do this, Leal,” said Dracia as she put her hand over Leal’s. “My duty is to see to your family’s safety and to the safety of the kingdom. I have to do all I can to make sure I complete that duty.”

“Not at the detriment to yourself. I will not have your sacrifice yourself for anything.”

“I took an oath that I would do anything to serve the Cassendars and the kingdom, including give my own life. I live by that oath, and as long as I am an Elite of the Sentinel and the High Captain, I will keep my oath.”

“Dracia,” whispered Leal. He could not bear to hear her talk so. Could she not see that her life was worth more to him than she could possibly know? Whatever oaths she might have taken meant nothing to him. He wished he could convince her to run away now, to get as far from Navalia as she could, but he knew she would never listen. It was not who she was.

“I do not want it to come to giving my own life away. I don’t believe it will have to if I do this right. I know it will not be easy watching me talk with Prince Fannar, but I swear to you, I will do nothing to break any promises I have made to you.”

“I am not worried about that, Dracia,” said Leal. “I just can’t stand the idea that he could do something to you, take something from you by force.”

“I doubt it will help you to hear this, but I do know what I am doing. I will be cautious, and I do not plan to be alone with Fannar at any time, at least not for a while.”

“I do not like it,” said Leal taking his hand off of Dracia’s face. He pulled her to him and held her, noticing she was shivering in the cold night air.

“And you think I like you spending time with Lilith?” asked Dracia looking up at him. “You need to watch yourself with her if you plan to keep baiting her so. She could turn on you easily.”

“I can handle myself with Lilith,” said Leal as he bent down and kissed Dracia’s cold nose lightly.

“Do not underestimate her, Leal,” said Dracia as she reached up and put her arms around Leal’s neck. “Besides, being here and hearing all this talk of your marrying her has awoken my jealous nature again. I don’t not like watching her touch you, and whisper to you.”

“You think I like seeing you in this gown provided by Fannar. You know well I have my own issues with jealousy. You have seen it many times. As beautiful as you look, all I want to do is rip this gown off of you.”

Dracia laughed before she pulled Leal down and kissed him fiercely. “Try to wait until we are alone before you get any ideas of tearing this gown. I am not opposed, but I would not like to stand before the court naked, at least not in this climate.”

Leal kissed her again. “Fine, but try to make it an early night. We can say we are all weary from travel. I am sure Malven already knows what room you are in so I should have no troubles finding you tonight. Now, come on, you must be about to freeze solid out here,” said Leal pulling back and taking her hand to walk with her back inside the palace.

Dracia nodded as she walked with him towards the door that led inside. The walked in side by side back down the hallway and towards the banquet hall. Before they entered, Dracia turned to Leal.

“I will see you soon. Try not to watch me too closely tonight. I will have to spend at least a few moments flirting with Fannar,” said Dracia.

“I am afraid I won’t be able to keep my eyes off of you so keep that in mind unless you really do want me to come tear that dress off of you,” said Leal with a small smile.

“I guess I will tell the attendants in my room to let me be tonight. I don’t think I will need any help from them undressing,” said Dracia as she walked into the room ahead of Leal.

“No,” said Leal as he followed her at a small distance. “I think you can count on having plenty of help to make sure you are well taken care of tonight.”

Leal walked over to where his father was standing. Lexine had rejoined him, and Roderick was nearby talking to Galen. As Leal walked up to the king, Roderick turned and looked at him. Leal gave him a small nod in Dracia’s direction, and Roderick patted his brother on his shoulder before walking to Dracia. Leal found he did breathe easier with Roderick by Dracia’s side.

Leal looked at his father as the king pulled out a silver flask and took a long swig. The king smiled happily and put the flask back in his pocket as King Arnar walked up with a very beautiful woman at his side. She looked to be Navalian, but she was tall for a woman from Navalia. Her age was very hard to tell. She could just be a few years older than Leal, or she could be closer to his father’s age. She had light blonde hair that fell down well past her shoulders in curls. Her eyes were large and bright blue, her mouth pouty and red. She smiled as she looked at King Rommel showing her perfect, straight white teeth.

“Good evening, King Rommel,” said Arnar. “I wish to introduce you to the Lady Belleth. She is a particular friend of mine.”

The king looked closely at Lady Belleth, seeming to study her features. “You look familiar to me in some way. Haven’t I seen you before?” asked King Rommel bending down to look very closely at the woman.

Leal saw Lady Belleth give one look of annoyance before she smoothed her features into complete serenity and loveliness. “I don’t believe so, your majesty. I think I would have remembered meeting you,” said Lady Belleth as she curtseyed.

“And this is the Crown Prince of Lanoxan, Leal Cassendar. He is to marry my Lilith,” said King Arnar.

“It is a delight to meet you, your highness. Princess Lilith has talked much of you. She is very eager to become your wife.”

Leal bowed. “Eager or not, she will have to wait,” said Leal.

“Yes, I suppose the courts and kingdoms expect much pomp for such a wedding. You will have to gain the gods blessings from both your kingdoms as well,” said Belleth.

“I believe it is time for supper so we should take our places,” said King Arnar offering his arm to Lady Belleth.

Leal walked to the head table with his father and sister. He was met there by Princess Lilith who walked with him to his seat. He found himself sitting between Lilith and Belleth. It seemed Belleth was such a special friend to the king that she took her place by his side at the dinner. The two women chatted over Leal as they ate, talking of members of the Navalian court and making comments on few of the Cassendar court as well.

“So, the Isadel girl will marry a lord from Lanoxan?” asked Lilith looking out at the other tables.

“Yes, the only son of Lord Nest,” Belleth said as she picked up her wine glass. “He is a high lord in your court, isn’t he Prince Leal?”

“Yes, he is on the king’s council,” answered Leal as he looked over at Martin who was eating quietly while his betrothed chatted with her mother.

“A good connection for the young Lady Isadel, quite a catch,” said Belleth.

“I doubt she sees it as such. I believe the silly thing had her eyes on Fannar,” said Lilith with a laugh. “Of course, Fannar has his own ideas on making a connection.”

“Oh yes, I have heard of this. She is the daughter of some important lord, isn’t she?” asked Belleth.

“A very important lord,” said Lilith happily. “He is the highest lord in the Cassendar court. I believe your family and Lord Arwel’s are very close aren’t they, my prince?”

Leal nodded. “Yes, the Cassendar and Yates have been good friends for many generations.”

“She is also the High Captain of the Sentinel of Cassendar,” said Lilith. “I find her a little off putting and mannish, but Fannar seems to think much of her beauty.”

“Point her out to me, Lilith dear, or perhaps you would be so good, your highness,” said Belleth as she leaned towards Leal.

“She is just there at the table to your right. She is dressed very unusually for herself, much like a Navalian. She had dark hair, sitting next to the man in a Sentinel uniform,” said Lilith as she leaned towards Leal.

Belleth looked at Dracia for a long moment as she drank her wine. She sat her glass down and smiled. “You might not think much of her beauty, but I can see why you brother does. She must seem very exotic to him, and you must admit her eyes are very lovely.”

“I suppose,” said Lilith. “I believe she is a longtime friend with my prince so I will be kind, and say she is intelligent and is reputed to be an excellent fighter.”

“Do you think she would be a good match with Prince Fanar, your highness?” asked Belleth looking at Leal.

“No,” said Leal automatically as he looked at Dracia, her eyes shining as she laughed at something her brother who was sitting next to her had said to her.

“Really? Can you tell me why?” asked Belleth as she put her hand next to his, touching it slightly. She had leaned so close to him, Leal could smell the wine on her breath.

Leal took his hand away and leaned back. “She is of the Sentinel. She is a warrior, and a strong woman. From what I know of Navalian women, she will be nothing like Fannar is used to. I am not sure he could handle her.”

Belleth laughed. “Perhaps that is why she is so tempting to him. She is unlike anything he is used to. I also think a strong woman might be good for him. I don’t think he would mind someone like her taking him in hand.”

Lilith laughed as Leal looked down the table at Fannar, seeing the prince had his eyes on Dracia as he drank his wine. As Leal watched Fannar, his stare was rarely anywhere but on Dracia, and Leal did not like the look in his eyes.

After the meal, Leal walked around with his father and Lexine. His father seemed very relaxed, speaking with people with an ease Leal had never seen. Most of his conversation was appropriate, though a few times Lexine or Leal had to cut him off. Leal needed to remember to ask Galen how long they would need to give the king his drink.

As he walked with his father, he followed Dracia’s movements. She spent a little time speaking with her mother, finally walking off, rolling her eyes when her mother turned her back. She walked around the room with her brother, both talking together and meeting a few other lords and ladies. Finally, she was face to face Fannar. Leal noticed Roderick was quickly by her side as she spoke with the prince.

Leal watched as she smiled at Fannar. The prince returned her smile with a bright one of his own. He said something and she laughed daintily touching Fannar’s arm. Fannar looked down where she touched him and looked back up at Dracia, giving her a look that Leal did not find appropriate at all.

“Excuse me, Lexine, father, I think I need to speak with someone,” said Leal as he walked towards Dracia.

As he approached her, he saw she had one of her hands in the folds of her dress. He realized it was a deep pocket. As he got very near her, he saw her withdraw her hand for one moment to see his locket clutched in her fist. She ran her thumb over it and quickly placed it back in the pocket of the dress. Leal felt his features soften, and the knot in his chest untie slightly. He was able to approach Dracia and Fannar with a much calmer demeanor than would have been possible a few seconds ago.

“Prince Leal, I was just trying to convince your High Captain to go riding with me in a few days’ time. We have some lovely forest at the base of the mountains, and the snows aren’t too deep. You should convince her to go with me. You could join both of us with Lilith. Perhaps we could make a party of it and invite some other lords and ladies of both of our courts,” said Fannar.

“You have asked the wrong man to convince me, your highness. Prince Leal is not a fan of snow or cold. I cannot see him being enthusiastic about a winter’s day ride,” said Dracia as she glanced at Leal.

“If the company was right, I would not mind it. If it pleases you to go, I would go as well. We could invite a few of the younger lords of our court. Roderick, you would have to come as well. Darron too, I suppose,” said Leal.

“See, my dear lady, your crown prince does not mind it. Say you will come, and I will arrange it as soon as I can. You will grow tired of the walls of this palace if you do not get out.”

Dracia looked at Leal and Roderick before turning to Fannar. “Arrange it then, I think it would please me very much,” said Dracia with a pretty smile. “Now, if you will all excuse me, I think I will check in with our king and then retire for the night. Our majesty looks tired, and I am sure I would not mind some extra rest tonight after the trip.”

Fannar took her hand before she turned to go. “It is a pleasure seeing you again, my lady. I hope whatever problems we had before have been forgotten. It was never my intention to hurt you or scare you.”

Leal took a deep breath, trying to remain calm. He looked at Roderick who had his own dark look on his face.

“No, I don’t imagine you did. What’s done is done. I will just have to assume you are genuine in your apology and trust you will handle yourself differently in the future,” said Dracia.

“I am genuine, and I will do everything I can to prove it to you,” said Fannar as he bent down and kissed her hand.

Dracia nodded and then turned and walked to King Rommel. Leal looked at Roderick again, and Roderick gave him a subtle nod.

“You know Fannar, I am quite overheated in your cozy banquet room. Perhaps you would show me a place outside I could cool off for a moment?” asked Leal.

“There is a small courtyard not far from here. You can go through the back door in this room, and the door is at the end of the hall,” said Fannar.

“I want you to accompany me,” said Leal. “Surely you wouldn’t mind a short break from all of this? Roderick, I believe you might look a little warm yourself.”

“I am, your highness, I would be happy to join both of you if you don’t mind,” said Roderick.

“No, I am sure we don’t, do we Fannar?” asked Prince Leal.

Fannar looked like he would rather do anything than go outside with both of these men, but instead he nodded and walked to the back door. The all three walked silently through the hall and out the end door to the courtyard. Once Roderick had closed the door, Leal turned to Fannar.

“I don’t want to play games,” said Leal. “I know what you did to Dracia back in Winsdell. I know how you cornered her and kissed her against her will, and I know how you used your magic on her.”

“It was a simple misunderstanding” said Fannar as he crossed his arms. “I had been flirting with the High Captain for some time. I thought she was wanting my advances. I was wrong.”

“It was not a misunderstanding,” said Roderick walking over to stand next to Leal. “If you thought she would welcome your attentions, why use your magic on her?”

“You know nothing of royal magic,” spat Fannar at Roderick. “I don’t know why you even think you can speak to me.”

“He can, and he will,” said Leal. “Answer Roderick’s question.”

“My magic is not always easy to control, especially when certain feelings are happening. She is a beautiful woman whom I am very attracted to. I wasn’t intending to harm her in anyway. Why would I hurt a woman I am hoping to make my wife?”

Leal laughed. “You can say that after all your sister, and you have done to her since you left Lanoxan? All the attacks Dracia has had to suffer at yours and Lilith’s hands, and you say you would never harm her.”

Fannar looked at Leal and then Roderick with is mouth half opened. His eyes looked confused. “What do you mean?”

“Please,” said Roderick. “Do not try to deny it. We have both seen how she is affected when she is attacked.”

“Attacked?” asked Fannar. “Who attacked her?”

Leal rubbed his face with his hand as he heard Roderick give an angry snort.

“This is going to get old, very fast, Fannar,” said Prince Leal. “Denial of this will not do you any good with either of us.”

“I do not what know what you think I am denying. I have no knowledge of the High Captain being attacked by anyone, and I will not stand here and let you accuse me of it.”

Leal felt his anger grow to the point his power within him was barely containable. “Stay away from her,” Leal said in a low, harsh voice.

“No, why should I?” asked Fannar. “She seemed to enjoy my company tonight. You might be the next king of her kingdom, but you do not have control over who she chooses to spend her life with.”

Leal laughed again. “If only you knew who you were really talking to.”

“I know you have some fascination and old friendship with her,” said Fannar. “I have seen how you watch her, but you have chosen to pledge yourself to my sister. Whatever you might have heard about Navalians and our open ways will not apply here. If I can gain the High Captains acceptance of her hand, I do not plan on sharing.

“Whatever it is you two hoped to gain tonight by bringing me out here and speaking your false words, I do not know, but I will not stand here and listen to it.”

Fannar turned and started walking away. Leal could feel himself shake with anger. He raised his hand to let his power do as it wanted to Fannar when he felt Roderick put his hand on his shoulder.

“If you do anything to him, you know what will happen to her,” said Roderick speaking closely to Leal. “I know how you feel, but if we want to get everyone out of here alive and safe, we are going to have to do this Dracia’s way. You will have to trust she knows what she is doing.”

Leal put his hand down and nodded. “I don’t know how much of this I can take, Roderick.”

“We will have to work together to keep her safe. I will watch her as much as I can, and make sure she is not alone with Fannar. You see to her when you are able. I will try to keep an eye on Darron as well.”

“Darron?” asked Leal. “You think Darron is a threat to her?”

“I am not sure, but he has been saying things, and I don’t like the friendship he seems to have with Princess Lilith. I saw them talking tonight at the edge of the room several times.”

Leal put his head in his hands. “I never should have let her come here. I should have somehow convinced her to go to Siccaria or somewhere far away.”

“And you know what would have happened to her if you had done it,” said Roderick. “Even with whatever defenses Galen found, they have still found a way to hurt her, and they will do it again. All we can do is try to figure out what is going on here, and find a way to destroy the link between her and the Navalians. I know my brother and your sister are working on it.”

“I know,” said Leal looking back up. “You are right.”

“You should go to Dracia,” said Roderick. “Right now would be the perfect time to disguise yourself however you do it, and go to her room. You will feel better after seeing her.”

Leal nodded. “I will need to find Malven to know where her room is.”

“There is no need,” said Roderick with a small smile. “I can tell you.”

Leal had seen enough attendants of the winter palace to know what they looked like. He glamoured himself and walked up swiftly to the room Roderick had told him was Dracia’s. When he got to the door, he knocked and waited until Dracia answered it. She looked at him with curiosity as he smiled at her. She nodded once and let him in, Leal letting his glamor fall as she closed the door behind him.

“Is everything alright?” she asked as she walked up to him.

“No, not at all,” said Leal as he grabbed her hand and brought her too him. He kissed her. She stood still for one moment, before she kissed him back, wrapping her arms around him.

“Is it that bad?” she asked breathlessly as he moved to kissing her jaw and neck.

“Nothing will be alright again until we leave this place for good,” he said between kisses. “But I don’t want to think about it tonight.”

“Good, because I don’t want to either,” said Dracia before she moaned quietly as Leal moved her hair and kissed her neck.

Leal went back to kissing her lips, guiding her to the large bed in the room.

“You are very impatient tonight,” she said as he pulled her down to sit on the bed next to him. His hands searching her back looking for buttons to undo.

“I hate to be this way, and sound like some possessive brute, but I feel a strong need to claim you in some way,” said Leal as he finally found the buttons in the folds of fabric. He started undoing them, kissing along her jaw as his hands worked.

“You already claimed me long ago,” said Dracia. “I think even before either of us realized it. I have loved you for so long, there is no going back no matter what happens. I will keep every promise I have ever made to you, even if you find you cannot keep the ones you made me. I will never love another, Leal.”

Leal finished with the last button and leaned up to look at her. “I could never break any promise I have ever made to you, it is impossible. I need you to know it and to believe it. We will get through this, and you and I will live together as we should have long ago. It doesn’t matter to me if our kingdom falls apart, as long as I have you.”

Dracia kissed him as he slowly moved her dress off of her shoulders, letting it fall to her waist. “I will not let your kingdom fall, your highness,” she said against his lips. “I will find a way to save it, and then I will be by your side as you rule it.”

“We will rule it together,” he said as he leaned over her, laying her down on the bed.

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