The Sentinel of Cassendar: Navalia

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Chapter 21

Leal stood at the left side of the banquet hall drinking a glass of wine and looking over the court of Cassendar and Navalian court as they mingled together. He supposed they would have every dinner in this way while in Navalia. There would be a grand production every night where Leal had to wear his crown and eat at a high table with the rest of the royals. He would give almost anything to be able to take a tray of food to his or Dracia’s room and spend a quiet evening with her.

He looked around the room, trying to spot her. He had looked for her half the day. After going their separate ways this morning, he had not seen her anywhere. After eating lunch with Lexine, he had gone to her room and knocked, but here was no answer. He had walked through the palace, seeing many from the court and Lady Belleth, but not Dracia. He found he was anxious for her. He hoped she had not run into any trouble or been caught alone with Fannar.

“Prince Leal,” said Lord Colm Yates as he walked up to Leal. “May I have a word with you.”

“Speak as you like, my lord,” said Leal as he took a drink.

“No, not here,” said Colm looking around. “We need to go somewhere alone. What I have to say will not take long.”

Leal nodded, wondering what Colm wanted. He looked angry at Leal, though Leal couldn’t think why the man would be upset with him. Leal led him out the back of the banquet hall and to an open door in the hallway there. They both entered to find themselves in a small parlor. Colm closed the door behind them and turned to Leal.

“We have known each other almost our whole lives, your highness, so, I will not mince words or hold back. I hope that meets with our approval.”

“Yes, you may speak to me as you would like, Colm.”

“I want you to go to my sister tonight and release her from whatever this hold you have over her is. I want you to tell her to let you go so she can leave this place and find safety and happiness.”

“What?” asked Leal too shocked to reply in any real way.

“She says she loves you, and she will not leave you, but she is not safe here. If you tell her it is over between you, she will listen and be free to leave. Nothing good can come of her loving you.”

“Did she tell you about this?” asked Leal, closing his eyes for a moment.

“Yes, but only because your father brought it up first on our walk. The king apologize to my father over the fact that you could not marry Dracia. He said you wanted to marry her as well.”

“I did,” said Leal. “I want no one but her, and I will have no one but her.”

“You can’t have her,” said Colm. “You have given your promise to another, and you will have to see it through. Let her go now, so she can start to recover, and find a way to be happy.”

“I have given no real promises to Princess Lilith, none that I can keep, and I will not marry her. I love your sister. I will never love anyone, but her. I cannot let her go.”

“You would rather come to harm, would you? She told me of what the Navalians have been doing to her. She told me how she almost died defending your kingdom, and now she has to suffer attacks because of it. She is too good to be going through all of this,” said Colm. “To be honest, your highness, she is too good for you.”

“I know,” said Leal quietly. “I have never deserved her love, but I have gained it somehow. I know what a precious gift it is, and I will not waste it. I cannot ask your sister to let me go, and I will not let her go. It is impossible at this point.”

“Do I have to call you out?” asked Colm. “I know it wouldn’t do any good. I know what powers you have, but I am at a loss of what to do next.”

“I promise you, I will not abandon her. If you don’t trust me, trust her. She knows her own mind, and you or even I couldn’t change it. I need her, Colm, and the kingdom needs her. She will be our next queen. Can you think of anyone more qualified than her?”

“I don’t see how this can happen as you say it will. You are betrothed to Princess Lilith. Do you think the Navalians are just going to let us be if you break faith with the king’s daughter?”

“No, I do not. I don’t plan to live peacefully with Navalia after this. I know who they are, and I have seen what they have done to Dracia. Once we figure out how to successfully break the bond between Dracia and Lilith, we will leave this place and prepare for war.”

“Putting my sister in more danger then as the High Captain of your Sentinel,” said Colm angrily.

“She will be living in the High Palace as my wife by then, but I don’t presume to be able to stop her from fighting. You know who she is.”

Colm walked away, turning his back to Leal.

“What else can be done? Do you want to live in peace with Navalia with their princess as the queen over our kingdom? How do you think that will work out not only for your sister, but for your wife and children? No peace can be had with the Navalians.”

“What if you can’t break the bond?” asked Colm.

Leal hesitated.

“You don’t know, do you?” asked Colm. “If the bond can’t be broken, they will kill her if they don’t get what they want, won’t they?”

“Yes,” said Leal.

“How are you trying to break this bond?”

“Galen Ellis and my sister are trying to find a way. I believe they are spending every minute they can trying to figure it out.”

“What of the great healer, Sarin? Can he not do something?”

“No,” said Leal. “He knows of nothing, but Galen has already found a way to help her though it isn’t fool proof. I believe if anyone can help her it is Galen.”

“A son of a lower lord who is what eighteen?”

“Nineteen,” said Leal. “But he is brilliant. I have never met anyone with a mind like his, except perhaps your sister. She believes he is even more gifted than she is in many ways, and I don’t think Dracia has ever been wrong.”

Colm was quiet as he rubbed his eyes with his hand.

“What will you do, Colm?” asked Leal after a moment.

“She is trapped here with only a two ways of getting out,” said Colm.

“Yes,” said Leal. “Either we break the bond, or I find a way to marry Princess Lilith.”

“Then you will do one of those two things. If you cannot break the bond, you will marry the princess, and we will deal with the repercussions of it.”

“I don’t think I can marry Lilith,” said Leal as he hung his head. “I don’t think it is possible.”

“You will find a way if it is the only way to save my sister. If you don’t promise me this now, I will go to my father and tell him all. He only knows a small part now, but I will tell him everything including the king threatening my father’s only daughter and most beloved child.

“My father will break faith with your family, you know he will. He will find whatever uprising might exist out there and add his own allies to it, and he will find a way to overthrow your family. Don’t think he will not.”

“I know he would.”

“Then promise me now you will marry the Navalian princess if it comes to it.”

“You don’t know what you are asking me to promise, not really. I would promise it if I could, but I cannot. It is not in my power,” said Leal.

“What do you mean?”

“I cannot tell you,” said Leal. He stared at Colm. “I promise you this. I will not let Dracia come to harm at the hands of the Navalians. I will not let her die here. If I do, you can do with me as you wish. I will not fight back. I will not shield myself. You can take my life and my kingdom. I swear it as a Cassendar.”

Colm looked at Leal with a hard stare. “You really mean it, don’t you?”

“Yes, my life will mean nothing if I lose her, so I will give it to you. You can have the kingdom as well, as you know you and your father could take it if you wanted to.”

“I accept,” said Colm, holding out his hand. Leal took it and Colm gripped it before letting it go.

“You should know that you might have to duel Roderick Ellis for the right to do away with me if your sister comes to harm. He has already threatened me on account of her, and for a lesser reason.”

“I don’t see why Roderick and I couldn’t kill you together if we have to,” said Colm with a small smile before he turned and left the room, leaving the door open behind him.

Leal walked back into the banquet hall, feeling slightly disoriented. He had spent only one night in Navalia and already he was feeling miserable. What if they couldn’t find a way to break Dracia’s bond with Lilith? What would he do? He would have to do something because he could not marry Lilith. Perhaps he could kill Lilith. He could convince Dracia to run back to Lanoxan, and when she was safely away, he could kill Lilith and hope it would not hurt Dracia. It was risky, but whatever choice would they have? Thinking it over gave Leal a great need to see Dracia, and to speak with her.

He looked out over the room seeing this father next to Lexine and Galen. They would have to make sure they never left the king alone with anyone. He was foolish to have let the king walk alone with the Yates. Leal wondered when Dracia’s father would come find him for a talk. He was sure one was coming. Perhaps Colm had satisfied Lord Arwel for now, but he doubted the high lord would leave Leal alone for long.

Leal continued to look over the crowd when Lilith came to his side.

“Good evening, my prince,” she said in her soft voice. “I have missed you today. I looked for you, but could not find you.”

“Probably because I did everything I could to avoid you,” said Leal as he continued to watch the crowd.

Lilith laughed. “You shouldn’t have avoided me, you would have seen a few very interested things.”

Leal remained quiet.

“I will tell you what you would have seen because I know you want to know even though you would say otherwise,” said Lilith.

“I don’t want to know,” said Leal.

“Then walk away,” said Lilith. “Walk away if you don’t wish to know.”

Leal stayed where he was, thinking he might as well hear what she had to say.

“I saw your High Captain take a nice walk with my dear brother. They seemed to enjoy each other’s company very much. I saw her laugh several times, and he kissed her hand at the end.”

Leal shrugged. “That is hardly interesting. The High Captain is polite and would not refuse to walk in public with almost anyone if they asked.” He tried to hide the burst of anger he felt at the thought of Fannar’s lips on Dracia’ skin, even if it was just a simple court gesture.

“A simple walk can lead to something more very quickly,” said Lilith happily. “She would be a fool not to accept his advances. What woman doesn’t want to be a queen?”

“It depends on the king she is attached to, I imagine,” said Leal casually. “Do you have any other news to tell me, or should I walk off now?”

“Oh yes, this one was most unexpected,” said Lilith with a giggle. “But wait I believe I was too late. Here they come now.”

Leal looked down at her to see her looking at the main door of the room. Leal followed her eyeline to see Lord Ethen walk into the room. He was dressed in the red and gold of Siccaria, his eyes bright and his smile wide. He escorted two woman, one on each arm. Both women wore dresses of bright red, their dark hair spilling down their shoulders. It was a striking site, and many people had stopped talking to watch the trio come into the room.

As they came further into the room, Leal looked again at the slightly taller woman on Ethen’s left to realize it was Dracia. Leal looked her up and down in her red dress finding the color and cut suited her very well. The dress had a scooped neck that showed just a bit of her cleavage. The sleeves were three quarter length, stopping just before her elbow. The bodice was tight and had a simple stitching of some flower in gold, that Leal quickly realized was the dogwood of the nobles of Siccaria. The dress came in at her waist and flowed out into a skirt that rested just over her slippers.

Leal had never seen her in such a shade of red. He had seen her in purple, blue and green as was normal for her family, and perhaps in a much darker red. He had seen her plenty in black, but never in such a bright shade of red. He thought it was a shame because never had a color complimented her so with her dark hair and eyes.

“What are they playing at?” asked Lilith sounding annoyed. Her playful and bright manner quickly gone.

“It seems the Siccarians are making a statement,” said Leal with a slight smile. “They are showing their support for the High Captain. It looks like they have claimed her as their own.”

Leal walked away from Princess Lilith and towards Ethen and Dracia. He met them in the middle of the room, Leal smiling at Ethen before looking Dracia over again. As much as he would rather see her in Cassendar green, she did look magnificent in her red gown.

“Lord Ethen, this is a surprise,” said Leal bowing.

“I hope you don’t mind us coming to your betrothal celebrations, your highness. We found a sudden pressing need to be here,” said Ethen as he bowed and then glanced at Dracia before turning to the other woman at his side. “May I introduce my wife to you?”

“I would be honored,” answered Leal looking at the very pretty woman standing next to Ethen.

“Lady Maia, this is the Crown Prince of Lanoxan, Leal Cassendar. Your highness, this is my wife, Lady Maia, a High Noble of Siccaria.”

Lady Maia curtseyed as Leal bowed. “It is a pleasure to meet you, my lady. It seems you are already familiar with my…” Leal paused for one moment looking at Dracia. “My High Captain.”

“Yes, I was very anxious to meet her. I had heard much about her from both Ethen and Lady Elise. She is a great favorite of both of them, and I am sure I will grow attached to her quickly.”

“I am sure you will,” said Leal. “I am glad to see you, Ethen, and I look forward to catching up, but do you mind if I speak with the High Captain for a few moments in private. I have not seen her all day, and I need to check in with her.”

“If she is not opposed then I will allow it,” said Ethen with a small laugh.

“I will speak with you, your highness,” said Dracia as Leal offered her his arm. She took it, and he led her over to the side of the banquet hall.

“It seems as if everyone is trying to claim you in some way, but me. Perhaps I should dress you in Cassendar green for tomorrow’s dinner,” said Leal as he pulled her close as they walked.

“Yes, Maia and Ethen wanted to make a point to the Navalians tonight. You aren’t really upset, are you?”

“How could I be upset looking at you? As I said I would rather you be by my side in green, but this color on you is breathtaking. I have never seen such a red on your before.”

“No, why would you? I have never had a reason to wear it. It is not a part of my family colors, and it is not black and silver,” said Dracia as they walked into the corner of the room that was shielded from the rest of the crowd by a large column.

“I think you will have to find a reason to wear it again, sometime. It would please me if you did,” said Leal daring to move her hair and lean in and kiss her neck quickly.

“If it causes you to act so impulsively and dangerously, perhaps it would be better if I avoided red altogether,” said Dracia giving a small laugh.

“We should just leave now and forget the meal,” said Leal leaning down and kissing her lips as she stood against the column.

“Yes, red is definitely dangerous to wear around you,” said Dracia as Leal pulled back. “We will not skip the meal because I am very hungry. Also, we have to continue to play our game. One wrong move, and it could be disastrous. Ethen and Maia have brought us a new advantage, and I want to use it as best we can.”

“You have brought me a great ally, have you?” asked Leal teasingly. “You have managed to bring Siccaria to the side of Lanoxan?”

“Siccaria is on my side, your highness. If you want them to help your kingdom, you will have to do all you can to please me,” said Dracia as she leaned up and kissed him.

“I don’t see that being a problem. I think I might live to please you. I know it is my favorite thing to do,” said Leal pulling her against him and kissing her passionately.

“We must stop before we are found out,” said Dracia as he pulled back. “The meal will be starting soon, and then it won’t be long until we can retire.”

“It will be dreadfully long and agonizing, Dracia. What if I am seated between the that awful princess and King Arnar’s hill rolling trollop again?”

Dracia laughed. “Listen to you, talking as a commoner. I think I am a bad influence on you.”

“No, you are one of the few parts of me that is truly good,” said Leal as he brought her hand up to his lips and kissed it. “Something your brother agrees with I have to say. He spoke with me tonight.”

Dracia sighed. “I wish I could have warned you first. I should have found you, but I got distracted by Fannar and then Ethen. Was it terrible?”

“He only spoke truth, Dracia. Do not trouble yourself,” said Leal.

“I want to hear what he had to say,” said Dracia.

“You can probably guess most of it, but we can’t speak of it here. It looks like people are moving to the tables. We should go,” said Leal as he held out his arm to her.

“Fine, but you will tell me when you come to my room tonight,” said Dracia, taking his arm.

“I will tell you at some point, but I have other things planned for when I come to your room tonight, and they do not involve talking,” said Leal with a smile as they walked back to the center of the room.

Leal sat at the high table, and looked over to his right to see Lilith heading his way. She sat down between him and her father, the king’s special friend not seeming to be in attendance that night. To his left, sat Ethen’s wife, Lady Maia.

“Good evening again, my lady,” said Leal to Lady Maia as an attendant poured wine into his glass.

“Prince Leal, I am glad to be seated next to you. It gives me an opportunity to know you better,” said Maia as she nodded her thanks to the attendant who was filling her wine glass. ’

“We are both glad you and Lord Ethen could make it to our betrothal celebration,” said Princess Lilith as she leaned over Leal, her hand slightly hitting his glass of wine.

“Yes, well, my husband was anxious to see his friends again, especially the High Captain, and I found myself very interested in meeting her.”

“I suppose you wanted to see the woman who raised such interest in your husband,” said Lilith with a small laugh.

“I know what you are insinuating, and I can tell you it is not like that,” said Lady Maia with distaste. “My pleasure in meeting the High Captain is genuine. I have no reason to be jealous of her or any other woman. I know where I and every other woman stands in my husband’s esteem.”

“I wonder how many woman had said just the same thing, to be sorry later,” said Lilith.

“But I will not be one of them. I had heard of your openness, Princess Lilith, but I didn’t realize I would actually find you so crude.”

Princess Lilith made a slight noise that might have been hiss, or it might have been a sharp intake of breath, but whatever it was it was the only noise she made for a while, which pleased Leal.

“So, your highness, what do you think of your High Captain tonight?” asked Maia as she took a bite of her meal.

“I was surprised to see her dressed so. I didn’t recognize her at first,” said Leal.

“I didn’t know she would be so lovely when I met her. Ethen described her as so, but he can be generous with his praise. Lady Elise said she had lovely eyes and dark hair and that was it. I had heard other rumors of your female High Captain, and I didn’t know what to expect. She is very beautiful.”

“She is,” said Leal as he glanced as Lilith. “She is the most beautiful woman I have ever seen, begging your pardon of course, Lady Maia.”

“You do not need to beg anything of me,” said Maia laughing. My husband finds me to be the most beautiful woman he has ever see. He has told me constantly.” Maia lowered her voice to a whisper that was still loud enough to travel to Lilith’s ear. “It is only natural that you would find the woman who has your heart to be the most beautiful sight to you.”

Leal nodded. “If we love and cherish something, it tends to make it more beautiful. When we despise something, it turns it quite hideous,” said Leal glancing at Lilith.

Maia laughed. “That is true. Ethen talks about how ugly my favorite horse is often, but I find the beast very handsome, he is so good natured and dear to me.”

“Your horse is ugly, my dear,” said Ethen laughing on her other side. “He is a good animal, but very ill favored.”

“I’m sure many people find Navalia very beautiful with its snow covered peaks and ample shoreline, but I think it might be the ugliest sight I have ever seen,” said Maia with a frown.

“I wonder at you coming all this way, then,” said Lilith, finally daring to speak.

“I came to support one of our own,” said Maia. “She will need it I think, since she is in a den of vipers.”

“She will have nothing to fear if she learns to leave alone what is not hers,” said Lilith looking at Leal.

“I have a feeling she knows more of what is hers than you do, Princess Lilith,” said Maia as she took a sip of her wine.

Lilith looked at Maia like she wished she could reach over and end her on the spot. Maia looked back at Lilith like she was daring her to try. Leal wondered if perhaps he should move for his own safety.

The meal finally ended, and Lilith left the table quickly, not even bothering to say a word to Leal. She left the room altogether, and he didn’t see her again the rest of the night. He enjoyed watching her be so indisposed, though perhaps he should have taken care to see that her temper had not been so worked up.

It was getting late and Leal was standing with his father keeping an eye on Dracia to see when she would retire for the night. She was towards the main door standing with Roderick, and talking with Ethen and Maia when he noticed her sway a moment. Roderick quickly put his arm around her shoulder as she put her hand in her pocket and brought something out of it. She moved it in front of her middle and then stood straight.

Roderick bent down and whispered something to her, and she nodded at him as he took his arm away from her. She seemed fine for a few seconds as she looked up at Ethen. She looked like she was going to say something when she suddenly put one hand to her chest and looked over at Roderick. She fell against him, and Roderick’s arms went around her.

Leal took no leave of his father, he started walking towards Dracia as Roderick walked her out of the room, Ethen and Maia following. No one else seemed to have noticed Dracia’s issues, as the lords and ladies still in the room chatted happily with one another. The Yates party had already left it seemed. Leal passed through the people in the room, not even bothering to nod at those who addressed him. He walked out the main door to find the hallway outside deserted.

He started walking down the hall, trying doors along the corridor. Most were locked, and a few lead to dark empty rooms. He got the end of the hall when he heard someone talking inside. He opened the door slowly to find Dracia sitting on a sofa in a dark room with Roderick on one side and Maia on her other. Ethen was kneeling before her and holding her hand. Dracia was very pale, and seemed to be having problems catching her breath.

Leal walked into the room swiftly and shut the door. As he walked over to her, he could hear Ethen speaking to Dracia.

“Captain, look at me, do not look away,” he said as he held her hand tight.

Dracia stared at Ethen, gasping for breath. Maia saw Leal walking over and got up, meeting him before he could reach Dracia.

“I can help her,” said Leal as Maia took his arm.

“So can Ethen. Stay here a moment, and let him,” said Maia as she gently squeezed Leal’s arm.

Leal watched as Ethen’s dark brown eyes seem to glow gold as he stared at Dracia. “They can’t hurt you. They can’t, Dracia,” said Ethen adamantly. “They can’t hurt you unless you let them. Fight them, and let them know you are stronger than they think.”

Dracia nodded and closed her eyes for one moment, seeming to try to catch her breath. She opened her eyes back up and swallowed so hard, Leal could hear it from where he stood.

“Good,” said Ethen quietly, not taking his eyes off of Dracia. He put his other hand on hers so that her hand rested in both of his. He started muttering something Leal could not understand. Whatever it was he said Dracia stared at Ethen, her lips started moving slightly, seeming to repeat whatever Ethen was saying. Leal looked over at Maia who smiled at him encouragingly. He looked back at Dracia to see her breathing was more even as Ethen let go of her hand.

“Dracia,” said Roderick softly. “Are you alright?”

“I am,” said Dracia, leaning back against the sofa. “I am just very tired.”

“Rest for a moment, my dear, and then we will get you to bed,” said Ethen as he took her hand and patted it before standing up.

He walked over to Leal as Dracia put her head on Roderick’s shoulder and seem to drift off.

“She didn’t tell me the attacks were so severe,” said Ethen quietly as he stood by Leal. “If I didn’t know better, I would think they were trying to kill her, but that wouldn’t seem right, not if Lilith truly wants you to marry her.”

“Lilith was angry tonight,” said Leal. “Angry people do not always make the best choices.”

“It was my fault,” said Maia morosely. “I aggravated Princess Lilith all throughout the meal. I should have thought she would retaliate in some way.”

“Do not blame yourself, Lady Maia,” said Leal looking at her. “Lilith is evil, and I think she enjoys causing pain. She would have found reasons to hurt Dracia even without your words, which were all true.”

“He is right, dearest,” said Ethen. “The High Captain will be fine. She just needs to rest.”

“What did you do to help her?” asked Leal.

“Siccarian energy,” said Ethen with a small grin. “You know a little of it. We have great control over our minds, and others as well. As I spoke to the captain, I helped her mind realize that she could fight back. I had to infuse some of my energy to her, but she was already fighting back at that point, because she has some ability on her own.”

“What do you mean?” asked Leal.

He saw Maia and Ethen share a look. “I think what my husband is trying to say is Dracia has a stronger mind than most.”

“Yes, exactly,” said Ethen smiling at his wife.

“Do you think this could help her fight off these attacks?” asked Leal.

“If we had more time, than yes, but I believe our time short. Isn’t Princess Lilith expecting to leave here officially betrothed to you in less than three weeks?”

“Yes,” said Leal looking over at Dracia as she opened her eyes and looked at Roderick.

“Then you will have to find another way,” said Ethen.

“She needs to get to bed so she can rest properly,” said Maia as she walked over to Dracia. “Dracia, do you think you can manage the stairs with some help?”

She nodded. “I am feeling better. I just want to get to my bed.”

“Then I will get you there,” said Roderick as he stood up. He held out his hand to Dracia and she took it, Roderick helping her to stand.

“I will go with you a well,” said Leal. “You do not need to be alone tonight, and I will see to you.”

“You will just walk into her room?” asked Maia with confusion.

“No, I will disguise myself as an attendant helping Roderick with his High Captain,” said Leal as he closed his eyes and concentrated on changing his appearance. He opened them to find Maia looking at him in mild fascination.

“I see rumors of the Cassendar power are true, very impressive,” she said with a nod.

Dracia walked past Leal with Roderick supporting her as Ethen and Maia followed. Leal kept a small distance from Ethen and Maia, keeping his head down as they exited the room. It seemed as most of the Cassendar court had gone to bed. They met only Lady Isadel and her daughter as the came to the stairs.

“High Captain,” said Lady Isadel with concern. “Are you unwell.”

“I just have a headache,” said Dracia weakly. “They come on with the cold and hard work sometimes. I just need to rest.”

Lady Isadel nodded and then looked behind her to see Ethen and Maia. Her eyes narrowed into obvious dislike, but she tried to mask it quickly.

“Lord Ethen,” said Lady Isadel with a slight nod. “I saw that you joined us tonight. I didn’t think anyone from Siccaria was coming to the betrothal celebration and blessing in Navalia.”

“Our plans changed,” said Ethen. “My wife and I found we wished to see our friends from Lanoxan. We wanted to see them so badly we even decided it was worth it to suffer in Navalia.”

“Yes, I remember if wasn’t to your taste the time your family came to the winter palace. Though some of your lower nobles seem to like it well enough since they married Navalian lords.”

“There are strange people in every family, even one as strong as ours. I hope my distant female cousins are happy, though I doubt it,” said Ethen. “Now, you are blocking the way for the High Captain to get to bed, so you should go up yourself or move so she can get some rest.”

Lady Isadel nodded. “Come along Lena, you need your sleep as well.”

They all watched the two Isadel women walk up the stairs. Dracia turned slightly and looked at Ethen with a raised eyebrow. “Not now, Captain, you need rest. We will talk about it tomorrow.”

Dracia nodded and started walking up the stairs slowly with Roderick’s help. He kept his arm around her, as she held on to the banister. They finally reached the fourth floor and Ethen and Maia said good night to go to their room after getting assurances from Dracia that she would be well. Leal followed Roderick and Dracia to her room, where she put her hand on her door before Roderick opened it. She entered the room with Roderick and Leal following her, Leal letting his glamour fall as he shut the door.

“I am well, Roderick. You should go get some sleep. I know you have been busy and tomorrow I would like to hear what you have found,” said Dracia as she walked over to the bed and sat down.

“If you are sure, I will leave you, Dracia. If you need me at any time, send for me,” said Roderick as he walked closer to her.

She held out her hand and he took it. “I feel as if I have barely seen you these past two days. I would like to ride out with you tomorrow if you are available.”

“I will be happy to go with you if you are feeling well,” said Roderick as he bent down and kissed her hand, letting it go.

He walked away, giving Leal a nod as he passed him on his way out the door.

“Let me help you get ready for bed, Dracia,” said Leal as he walked over and sat next to her on the bed.

“Thank you, I would rather not have to wait for an attendant right now,” said Dracia as she turned slightly so Leal could unbutton her dress.

He slowly undid her buttons, giving her a gentle kiss on her neck. After he undid the last button, he walked over to the wardrobe and opened a drawer, finding a nightgown. He brought it over to her as she stood and removed her dress and undergarments. Once she was undressed, Leal put the night gown over her head, and pulled it down her body. He pulled her to him and held her for a moment as she leaned her head against his chest.

“I am sorry. This is not what I had planned for us tonight,” said Dracia quietly.

“You are well, that is all that matters,” said Leal. “I am happy just being with you, able to hold you.” He leaned down and kissed her forehead. “You need to get in bed.”

He let her go and walked over to the side of the bed pulling down the bed coverings as Dracia picked up her red gown, fetching her locket out of its pockets. She laid the dress on a nearby chair and the placed the locket around her neck. As she went to the bed and laid down, Leal took off his crown and made himself comfortable for bed, sliding in next to her and pulling her into his arms.

He held her close to him as she quickly fell asleep. He stayed up long into the night, watching Dracia sleep as he held her, worrying about her safety. He could not marry Lilith no matter what happened, and he could not let the Navalians keep hurting Dracia. They didn’t have much time, but that time would become even less if he didn’t find a way to keep Lilith from acting out. Sometime in the night he kissed Dracia’s head and closed his eyes. She had been right all along, and it was time he started playing the game as well

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