Galen sat outside in a large courtyard of the winter palace on a stone bench, holding a book in his lap. Next to him, Lexine sat bundled up in a green fur lined cloak, with two books open in her lap, and one sitting open, next to her on the bench. Every so often she would tuck a sandy blonde curl behind her ear that would fall in her face as she read. Galen was trying to concentrate on his book, but he found himself mesmerized by the one curl on her head that had escaped her pins and would not stay put. He wanted so much to take his gloves off and run his finger over that one soft curl.
Lexine must have felt his eyes on her on because she looked up and smiled slightly at him.
“Do you need something, Galen? Have you found something interesting in your reading?”
“No,” said Galen smiling a little sheepishly. “I was just looking at you for a moment. You are a little of a distraction at times.”
“Is that so?” asked Lexine again tucking her curl that kept falling in her face. “Perhaps we should find different places to read then if you can’t keep your eyes on your book.”
Galen looked down at his book. “No, I will go back to my own book. The truth is I am getting a little discouraged. I have read all the books I have on Navalian magic and Navalian history, and I have found nothing.”
“What book are you reading now?”
“One on the history of your own family’s power,” said Galen. “Some of it is in a language I have never seen, but much of it I can read. I am hoping to find some way to be able to use yours or the prince’s power to better protect the High Captain.”
“Do you think it could be possible?” asked Lexine.
“There is no doubt your power had defensive attributes. I think your family’s power must be based on the stone mystic with its shielding and fighting abilities. Stone can be tricky to bind with, but if I could find something in here that would give me a hint to how to expand your power to others either by binding directly to others or objects one could wear it could be helpful.”
“Like the legend of our rings, I suppose,” said Lexine as she put her book in her lap and twisted her golden ring on her right hand.
“What about your rings?” asked Galen looking at Lexine’s hand.
“All Cassendars are given the golden band of the family to wear. It is said it is what marks us as a Cassendars, shows we are claimed by the family. Our family history says that our power was once tied to our rings, but it is not so now or maybe it never was. It could have just been about symbolism as it is now.”
“When were you given your ring?” asked Galen.
“When I was old enough to walk,” said Lexine. “I wore it around my throat on a chain until it fit my hand. When a new Cassendar is born, two rings are made. One for the child as they grow, and one for the eventual husband or wife of the Cassendar child. I have a ring kept safe in the castle for my future husband.”
“Does your mother have any powers, Lexine?” asked Galen as he lightly touched Lexine’s ring with his finger.
“She is a strong Mystics users, but I am not sure of the Cassendar power. You can ask Leal maybe he would know.”
“What have you managed to get out of your book?” asked Galen.
“Not much, I am afraid. I believe I have the correct word for lemon at this point, but there are so many uses of it in this book, it does not seem to narrow anything down. I am now trying to figure out the word for violet,” said Lexine, picking up one of her books.
“I could help you if you like,” said Galen.
“No, you keep working on helping Dracia. I will focus on trying to figure out what was being used on father. We don’t have a lot of time left to figure out Dracia’s bond with the Navalians, so I would gladly put this aside if you have something for me to read that would be helpful to you.”
“No, you keep trying to figure out your father’s drink. I don’t know why, but I think it is very important we figure that out quickly as well. If I have any questions for you on the Cassendar family or power, I will be sure to ask.”
They read on in silence for a while. The sun had come out behind the clouds, warming up the day a bit, making it not quite unbearable to spend some time outside. Galen read page after page, trying to find some way to help the High Captain. He finally looked up when he heard footsteps in the snow of the courtyard.
“Galen, Lexine,” said Prince Leal as he walked close to them. He sat down on a nearby bench that faced them. “How are both of you this morning?”
“Busy,” said Lexine. “You aren’t just rising, are you?”
“No, of course not,” said Leal. “I spent some time with father this morning to see how he was.”
“And how is he?” asked Lexine.
“Happy as I have ever seen him, though he seemed a little bored. He convinced Lord Arwel and Lord Colm to take a walk with him through Port Venala.”
“Gods, Leal, there is no telling what he will say to them. Should you not have gone with them?” asked Lexine.
Leal shrugged. “He seemed quite lucid and rational this morning. He might shock them a bit with some interesting language, but most of what he says is harmless. I don’t think we need to worry. I need to speak with Galen more than I needed to walk with father.”
“I am listening, your highness,” said Galen putting his book aside.
“How long do you think the king needs to keep taking the drink you are providing for him?” asked Prince Leal.
“I would suggest as long as we are in Navalia,” answered Galen with a quick glance at Lexine. “I don’t think causing him to be upset or have questions in his routine would be helpful here with everything else we are dealing with. He will also have a day or two of some withdrawal symptoms. Nothing harsh, just a little sleepiness and maybe a headache, it will probably feel like a morning after a night of overindulgence.”
“I heard he was running a bit low yesterday,” starting the prince.
“I have already made more of the drink last night in my room,” said Galen putting his hand up. “I hope you don’t mind, but I already spoke with Malven, and he saw to making sure the flasks were refilled. I believe he has had your father’s main attendant collecting them.”
“Galen, you really are a gift from the king’s gods, aren’t you?” asked Leal with a half-smile.
“He is,” said Lexine fondly. “I don’t know what any of us would do without him.”
“Have you managed to find anyway to further help your High Captain with her problem?” asked Prince Leal.
“No,” said Galen in frustration. “I have read every book on Navalian history and magic I have, but I have found nothing. I am now reading about your family’s history and power. I am hoping to find some way to use the Cassendar power to help shield the High Captain.”
“Do you think it is possible?” asked Prince Leal.
“I am not sure, but I am hoping I can find something that will let me know soon.”
“Leal, does mother have any use over the Cassendar power?” asked Lexine.
Leal looked to be in thought for a moment. “I am not sure. I don’t believe I have ever been in a situation with her where she would need to use it. Father would probably be the one to ask about it. Why do you want to know?”
“Lexine was telling me about the rings your wear and the legend behind them. It made me wonder if people who marry into the Cassendars have any use over the power.”
Leal looked at Lexine for a long moment before turning back to Galen. “I can ask the king if you wish, Galen.”
“I don’t know if it would help our current situation, but it would be an instance of the power bonding to someone, so it could be helpful,” said Galen.
“You should ask father, Leal. I do think it could be very useful information that we need to know, don’t you?” asked Lexine.
“Yes,” said the prince as his eyes moved slowly back and forth as though he was thinking through something.
“Was there anything else, your highness?” asked Galen.
“No,” said Prince Leal as he stood up, seeming a little out of sorts. He turned to go, but quickly turned around. “Actually, yes, Galen, there is something else. The High Captain would like you to meet her immediately in front of the palace. She says it is time for another lesson.”
Galen couldn’t help but smile. He had been wanting another lesson with her the whole trip. He turned to Lexine. “Would you mind taking my book inside with you? I will get it from you later.”
“I will take it for you right now. I think I am tired of the cold and would like to go inside. Perhaps you could walk with me, brother?” asked Lexine.
“Of course, Lex. Let us go to our rooms and wait for father. I would like to have a chat with him. We could all three have lunch brought to our rooms.”
Lexine nodded and grabbed Galen’s book as she and Galen stood up. Leal took the largest book from Lexine, and they all three walked back into the palace. Lexine smiled at Galen as she and Prince Leal turned to walk up the stairs while Galen walked to the front door to meet with the High Captain.
He walked out the door and looked around the front of the stone area of the front of the palace. He found the High Captain looking into the small well that stood in the middle of the front area. He walked up to her and watched as she looked in the well.
“I do not see any water down in this well, but I cannot see the bottom either,” said the High Captain as she continued to look down. “I wonder how far it goes down.” She kneeled down, taking off one of her gloves and put her hand against the paving stones next to the well. Galen watched as she closed her eyes and stayed very still for a few moments.
“Interesting,” she said as opened her eyes and looked up at Galen. “Novice, place your hand on these stones and see if you sense what I sense.”
Galen looked at her curiously, but did as she bid. “What am I looking for, High Captain?” he asked as he put his hand on the cold ground.
“See if you can use your Mystics to bind your sense to the stone at the bottom of the well. I think you will be surprised at what you find if you are successful.”
Galen closed his eyes and concentrated. He felt the stone under him, and worked to push past it. He moved his hand slightly as he concentrated on the bottom of the well, trying to find the stone found there. It was difficult work, trying to sift through all the rock that surrounded him and find the very bottom of the well. He felt stone all around him as he worked his way down the well in his mind, not stopping until he found the firm feeling of hitting very hard, old stone.
What he sensed was massive. It wasn’t a pool of water, or a small empty space. It was a huge cavern, large enough for the house he grew up in to stand. Not only that, but it also branched out as far as he could sense, running under the palace, to the sea one way, and under the city towards the mountains the other way. He wondered how far it really did go.
“What is this?” asked Galen opening his eyes and looking at the High Captain.
“I’m not sure,” said the High Captain. “It could be a naturally occurring cave system, it could have been built long, long ago as a way to escape something, or it could be something I couldn’t even guess. It is impressive whatever it is.”
Galen nodded as they both stood up and put their gloves back on.
“I hope you are feeling rested and like doing a lesson this morning, Galen. I have neglected my agreement to train you for too long on this journey.”
“You have had many things to deal with. I do not feel neglected. I have been very busy, myself,” said Galen as they started walking to towards the stone bridge.
“That you have. I am afraid we have been asking too much of you, but I already know what you will say, and I won’t argue. I would like to remind you to know your true limits and to not push them too far. You are too valuable to all of us for anything to happen to you,” said the High Captain as they crossed the bridge together.
They walked until they came to the main gate of the winter palace. The High Captain did not cross through the gate, she and Galen walked to the left of it, along the high white stone walls, until they came to the area where the front wall met the side wall, and a deep pile of snow laid against the corner.
“I don’t know how much you have worked with snow, but it is very tricky sometimes,” said the High Captain as she removed her gloves. “It is obviously just frozen water so you would think you could manipulate it with the water Mystic easily, and in truth you can, but it does not always react like you would like.”
The High Captain raised her hand and a large pile of snow rose up and quickly turned to liquid falling all around the ground. “As it melts, it can become hard to keep up with it. A small amount like this would be easy to work with, but imagine a pile as large as this wall, and you are trying to manage it all as it changes from its frozen state to pure liquid.”
Galen nodded. “I can see how that would be tricky,” he said as he looked up at the high mountains that stood above the city seeing the peaks that were covered in snow.
“So, even though water Mystic would seem like the best way to go, I would disagree. I think if you need to move snow, wind is the way to go,” said the High Captain as she waved her hand down and then up.
A large pile of snow rose from the ground. It moved around in the air as the High Captain waved her hand around, following her movements. He could see her close her eyes as she moved her fingers a bit, seeming to get a feel for the snow. She opened her eyes and let her hand down. The snow seem to move independently until it formed one large block and moved to the side.”
“What did you just do?” asked Galen with wide eyes.
“I bound the wind to the pile of snow, telling it what to do. The wind worked with it until it froze it solid and moved it aside just as I envisioned it.”
“How did you only bind the wind to this bit of snow?” asked Galen. “There is snow all around us, how did you instruct it to only work with this one pile?”
“I had to get to know this bit of snow,” said the High Captain. “I used water Mystics, but only to feel out this pile. Every single little bit of snow has its own shape and makeup. It is very delicate and hard to see at first, but if you work at it you can get a feel for it. Once I recognize the snow I wanted to move, I bound the wind to just that snow, and the wind did the rest as I instructed it.”
Galen looked at her wondering how she could make something so impossibly hard sound so easy. She described it like she had done nothing more made a small snowball in her hand to throw as children did. What she had actually done was so impressive, Galen wasn’t sure he could even begin to try.
“I see that look on your face, novice,” said the High Captain. “You need to believe you can do this because I believe you can. It will take work and time, but we will meet regularly. If you are careful, we can meet every two or three days for an hour or so. If you are too tired, you can let me know.”
“I would like to try,” said Galen. “I will do anything you ask of me, High Captain.”
“All I ask is that you don’t get frustrated with yourself. This is not an easy task. It took me all winter one year, but I think you are cleverer than me, so it will probably only take you half the time.”
Galen wasn’t sure he was cleverer than her, or more gifted. He had seen her do things he couldn’t imagine doing, but he appreciated her confidence in him. He spent the next hour trying to use water Mystics to get a feel for the snow. At first, he would use too much, and the snow would quickly turn to liquid. By the end of the hour, he had finally managed to get the feel for a very small amount of snow. He had managed to use wind to form it into a very small ball. So small, three would fit into the palm of his hand.
“That was very good, novice,” said the High Captain smiling. “I knew you would make progress faster than I did.”
“You didn’t have a teacher, though,” said Galen as they both put their gloves back on. “You didn’t even know this was possible. What made you think to try it?”
“I was bored one day as a young girl, and was playing with the snow using water Mystics, raising it up and turning it to water. I started to feel how each bit of snow I would manipulate had its own properties. From there, I just wanted to see what I could do with it.”
“How old were you, High Captain, if you don’t mind me asking you?” asked Galen as they both turned to walk back to the palace.
“I was fourteen,” said the High Captain. “It was a dreadfully boring winter with so much snow that year. Leal hated the snow so he would stay inside, but I found it rather fascinating so I would spend time alone walking around the grounds of my home and the palace.”
“You were fourteen?” asked Galen in wonder.
The High Captain smiled down at him and opened her mouth when she looked up at someone calling her name.
“Dracia,” said her brother Colm urgently as he walked towards her and Galen. “I need to speak with you now.”
“Whatever is the matter, brother?” asked the High Captain with a frown.
Colm looked at Galen for a second before turning his eyes on his sister. “I just have some questions for you that I need answered quickly. I hope your novice here will understand.”
“We are done with our lesson,” said the High Captain. “Would you like to go to my room?”
Her brother nodded and offered his sister his arm.
“I will let you know when our next lesson will be held, novice,” said the High Captain as she took her brother’s arm.
Galen nodded and watched her go. He couldn’t believe she was only fourteen when she had figured out how to bind wind with particular parts of snow. When Galen was fourteen, he could barely spark a fire in his hand. He watched the High Captain walk with her brother until she was well past the stone bridge, his admiration of her growing every day.