The Sentinel of Cassendar: Navalia

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Chapter 24

Dracia was miserable. She had never been so miserable in her life. Not when she was deathly ill at the age of ten, not the weeks it took to recover from being poisoned last summer, and not even during the etiquette lessons her mother made her endure. There had to be something wrong with Leal. He would never act this way towards her. She knew he would not. He loved her too much to turn on her in such way, no matter what the circumstances where.

If he had given up on a chance for them, he would have told her. If he had decided to somehow marry Lilith, he would have let Dracia know. He would not have treated her so cruelly or ignored her. Besides, it wasn’t just her he was pushing away. He had stopped talking to Lexine and sent Malven away from him. Malven reported to her now, telling her of whispers from the Isadels and of Darron sneaking off to be with Lilith.

She knew so many things, but she could not put them all together. Everything had to be connected somehow. The uprising in Lanoxan, the mysterious soldiers this past summer, her being poisoned, the queen’s treatment, and the king’s mysterious drink, it was all connected, and it all went back to Navalia, but how? Was Lilith really causing it all? Was King Arnar involved as well?

Dracia couldn’t get a good read on King Arnar. He seemed so passive and calm at all times. Lilith was evil enough to do something, but had also proved impulsive and temperamental. Could she really pull this all off by herself? Where did Fannar fit into all of this? Dracia found him nothing more than a thoughtless male who thought he was entitled to things he wanted, but she did not think he could mastermind the taking down of a kingdom.

Dracia looked at herself in her mirror. She had on her Sentinel uniform. She was so pale and tried, and she looked completely washed out in her blacks. She needed to do so many things. She needed to help Leal in some way, and she needed to find out what was really going on. She had only one place to start. She had one person who she could use to tell her something about the Navalian royal family. She would have to use him in some way tonight. She would have to find a way to get him to speak with her about his family.

Dracia sighed and turned from her mirror. She went to her wardrobe and dug out the dress Prince Fannar had given her, glad that Leal had not really torn it off of her. She sat down on her bed with the dress in her hand and felt like weeping. It had been so long since Leal had come to her. She had gotten used to loving him regularly. She had gotten to the point where she didn’t know how to sleep if she wasn’t in his arms. The past nights she had faced an empty, cold bed.

She missed him desperately. She missed the way he smiled at her. She missed his laugh, and his clean summer smell. She missed the feel of him against her and the way he said her name as he loved her. Dracia shook her head and stood up. She needed to be strong tonight. If she wanted to help him, she needed to know what was really going on. She started to walk over to the bell pull to summon an attendant when there was a knock at her door.

Dracia put her dress over a chair and walked to the door, answering it. Maia and Ethen stood together, both dressed in red, in her doorway. She moved out of the way to let them in.

“Are you ready to go downstairs?” asked Ethen, looking at her closely.

“No, I have not dressed yet,” said Dracia looking over her shoulder at the dress on the chair.

“We don’t have to go dinner,” said Ethen glancing at Maia. “We could all three stay here and order food in your room.”

“I have to go downstairs,” said Dracia. “There are things I need to do.” She turned to grab her dress when Ethen caught her hand.

“You don’t have to do them, you know. You don’t have to do anything,” he said softly. “Maia and I can protect you. We could leave tonight and go back to Siccaria. You could live with all of us as a High Noble.”

Dracia shook her head. “It is not who I am.”

“What if I told you it was,” said Ethen carefully. “We all feel you are. There are things you don’t know, Dracia.”

Dracia turned to look at him. “What do you mean?”

Ethen let go of her hand and turned to look at Maia. “I don’t think I can be the one to tell you,” said Ethen. “But I need you to trust me when I say you are more to me and Maia than you realize. Please come with us, and you will see. Do you know how happy you would make grandmother if you came back with us?”

“I don’t know what you are trying to tell me, Ethen, but it doesn’t matter. I cannot leave him. You know I cannot not.”

“She is right, Ethen,” said Maia taking her husband’s hand. “You must see how she truly feels about the prince. She could no more leave him than I could leave you or you me.”

“Dracia,” said Ethen with pain in his voice. “I am afraid for you. Do you know how much danger you are really in? I suppose you don’t, but you have to know it is not Leal they really want. It is only power, and he is one way to get that power. But you, you could ruin everything for them, and I think they will realize it soon. The longer you stay here, the more chance there is that they figure all of this out, and there will be no hope for you.”

Dracia looked at Ethen completely confused by what he meant, but he looked so sincere and worried for her, that she walked closer to him and took his hand.

“Whatever danger I am in means little to me. I have to save him, and I have to save my kingdom. I will not abandon him, my kingdom, my people, or my family.”

“We will not abandon you, Dracia,” said Maia. “I know you cannot leave, and Ethen knows it too, don’t you dearest?”

Ethen sighed deeply and nodded his head. He raised Dracia’s hand and kissed it before smiling at her. “What can we do, Captain?”

“You can excuse us for one moment, while you wife helps me to dress and prepare. I am going to need to find a way to charm Fannar tonight, and you are going to have to let me do it.”

“I do not want that man touching, you,” said Ethen with a growl.

“I can handle Fannar,” said Dracia. “I know who he is now, and I know what he wants. I can guarantee he will not touch me in any way I do not want.”

“Go on now, Ethen,” said Maia. “Let me help Dracia prepare. Have some faith in the High Captain.”

“I have plenty of faith in the Captain,” said Ethen as he turned to walk to the door. “It is others I worry about.”

Dracia prepared for the evening with Maia’s help. She walked downstairs in her Navalian gown with her hair flowing around her. She had her hand in her pocket, holding Leal’s locket, reminding herself who she was. He did love her; she knew he did. She would find out what she needed tonight, and then she would save him and his kingdom.

She walked in the room on Ethen’s arm looking through the crowds. She spotted her brother and father standing together. She saw her mother looking at her with slightly narrowed eyes. Roderick was near his brother, Galen, and they were talking quietly together. As she made her way into the room, she spotted Leal, standing by himself close to the high table. He had his crown on and was drinking from a glass of wine.

Leal stared at her as she looked at him. She felt tears come to her eyes, but she held them back as she let go of Ethen’s arm. She couldn’t take her eyes off of Leal as he stared at her. She held onto her locket tightly in her pocket and looked into his eyes, willing him to come to her. He put down his glass on a nearby table, not taking his eyes off of her. He smiled slightly and started walking towards her when he was cut off by Princess Lilith and Lady Belleth. Dracia let out a groan of frustration. Her hands itched as she desperately wanted to either throw fire at Lilith or walk up and punch her in her perfect nose.

“Dracia, are you well this evening?” asked her father as he walked up to her.

Dracia turned to her father and brother who were both looking at her with concern.
“I am well, father,” she said, forcing herself to smile.

“I can’t help but notice some tension between you and the prince. Has something happened I should know about?” asked her father as he grabbed her hand.

“No father, all is well,” said Dracia as her brother looked at her skeptically.

Her father held her hand and looked at her closely. “I want you to know that my first loyalty is to my family, and you are precious to me, Dracia. If you are being misused by the Cassendars, I will not have it. I will break any alliance I have with them if they are hurting you.”

“No, father, keep your alliance. The kingdom needs the Yates to be aligned with the Cassendars. There are threats to our kingdom all around, and we cannot fight amongst ourselves. Please trust me and know that I am well,” said Dracia.

Her father squeezed her hand. “You mean more to me than our kingdom, but I will trust you for now. If I see you being harmed in any way, I cannot guarantee I will not do what I must.”

Dracia nodded. “I must go speak with Roderick, if you will excuse me,” said Dracia as she moved between her father and brother.

She walked up to Roderick and Galen, and both men turned to her. Roderick looked her up and down looking annoyed.

“What are you doing, Dracia?” he asked folding his arms in front of him.

“I am going to try to get some answers tonight. I will be busy with Fannar, so I need you to keep an eye on Leal. See if you notice anything strange about his interactions with Princess Lilith and Lady Belleth. There is something going on, and we have to find out what it is.”

“You want me to watch the prince so you can spend time alone with a man who has attacked you in the past?” asked Roderick.

“I will be fine. I know how to deal with Fannar now,” said Dracia as she turned to Galen. “Have you had any luck?”

“No, and I would still be working on it, but Lexine sent me a note saying she had to speak with me tonight. As soon as I get a chance to talk with her, I will continue to figure it out.”

Dracia nodded. “Do what you can, Galen.”

She turned slightly and saw Fannar walking towards her. She gave Roderick a glance before she walked forward to meet Fannar.

“My lady,” said Fannar bowing as he met Dracia, her dropping into a low curtsey. “How very well you look tonight.”

“I do like this dress you have gifted me. I hope you do not mind me wearing it,” said Dracia as she held out her hand.

“Not at all. I brings me great pleasure to see you wearing it,” said Fannar as he took her hand and placed a long kiss on the back of it.

“I was wondering if perhaps after the meal, you might take a walk with me around the palace. There is much of it I haven’t seen, and I am sure you could tell me more about it than anyone,” said Dracia as she moved closer to him, leaning towards him slightly.

“I would be happy to show you anything you would like, my lady,” he said looking down at her, his eyes immediately going to her low neckline.

“Then I will meet you by the main door as soon as the meal is over, your highness,” said Dracia as looked up at him with a smile. She turned and then looked over her shoulder at him as she walked away.

“Dracia, I think you and I need to talk,” said her mother as Dracia practically ran into her.

“Of course, mother,” said Dracia as her mother grabbed her arm and led her to the corner of the room.

“What are you doing flirting so openly with Prince Fannar?” asked her mother as she let her arm go.

“I was merely speaking with the prince, mother,” said Dracia.

“Dracia, I know what you were doing. I believe I taught you how to do that, though I had no idea you were so skilled. That man looked like he would have given you at least half his kingdom right there.” Her mother stopped and tilted her head. “Is that what you want? I thought your heart belonged to another prince, but maybe you have changed your mind.”

“I have not changed my mind,” said Dracia adamantly. “I have no interest in marrying Fannar.”

“Then what is it you want from him because you must want something to put on such a show.”

“I need information on his family, on what is happening in Navalia. I need it for our kingdom and for our prince,” said Dracia looking around to make sure they were alone.

Her mother studied her for a moment. “Prince Leal has been acting off the last few days, and the court has started to talk. Does this have something to do with what you are trying to accomplish?”

“Yes,” said Dracia. “I believe it does.”

“Remember to make sure you give him just enough encouragement to keep him interested, but not put yourself in a position where he can take something you don’t want to give. Keep your shoulders straight, and do not slouch. You have some very nice assets that can distract a man, but you need to show them to advantage. Don’t smile too wide, and when you touch him try to do it as soft as a feather. Your hands are rather large, but your fingers are long and graceful in a way so that should help.”

“Alright, mother, I have to go; I will do my best,” said Dracia as she turned from her mother and started walking away.

“Dracia,” called her mother.

“Yes?” said Dracia as she reluctantly turned around.

Her mother walked up to her and leaned in, giving her a kiss on her cheek. “Be careful, and stay safe. You are very important, and you must remember it,” her mother whispered before walking away from her.

Dracia spent the meal eating silently by Roderick. She looked up at the high table periodically to see Fannar watching her. She smiled at him a few times, and even felt so bold as to wink at him once. She also saw Leal look at her throughout the meal. He never smiled, but he didn’t seem displeased. He only watched her as though trying to figure her out in some way.

She tried not to look at him so much, but she could not help it. It was agony to look at him and know she could not speak with him as she was used to doing. He was so handsome wearing his green shirt and his crown upon his head. He did look paler and more tired than normal, but his hazel eyes were still bright as he looked at her. She almost wished she could go straight to him and drag him out of the room with her and demand to know what was going on. She wanted to kiss him until he snapped out of whatever was wrong with him. She wanted to remind him that he belonged to her because no matter what happened she would always belong to him.

The meal ended and Dracia stood up, giving Roderick a quick squeeze on his upper arm.

“Be careful,” he said quietly

“I will,” she answered before leaving the table and walking to the main door. Fannar was already there waiting for her.

“Are you ready, my lady?” he asked as he held out his arm to her.

“I am,” she said with a smile as she took his arm. He led her out of the room and into the halls of the palace.

They walked the many first floor halls, Fannar showing Dracia into parlors and a music room. He brought her into a large room with a fireplace and a desk.

“This is the king’s study,” said Fannar as Dracia looked around the room.

“It is a very handsome room,” said Dracia as she walked up to the desk. “Do you spend much time in here with your father?”

“I have in the past. Lately, father hasn’t been coming in here as much. He tends to spend most of his days in his rooms. He has me see to some kingdom matters for him here, and he attends to more hefty things, as he puts it, from his sitting room,” said Fannar.

“What hefty things does he refer to do you think?” asked Dracia as she turned to look at Fannar.

“I don’t really know. He hasn’t said. I suppose some of our army’s movements. We have had some raiders on our western border lately.”

“You mean from the kingdom of Parvial? The one that your kingdom conquered last year, killing their king?”

“I believe I do,” said Fannar.

Dracia almost asked what he had expected to happen. Navalia invaded the small kingdom and killed their leader. Raiders indeed. She bit her tongue, knowing such talk wouldn’t help her.

She looked behind the desk to see a portrait hanging there.

“Is this a portrait of you and your father and mother?” asked Dracia as she stood in front of the desk.

“It is,” said Fannar. “My mother died just after giving birth to Lilith, so it is the last portrait we have of her.”

Dracia looked at the woman with light brown hair and green eyes. “She was not a Navalian,” said Dracia.

“No, she was the youngest daughter of the king of Aurumia,” said Fannar. “My father said he met her at a ball given by her father, and he fell in love with her as soon as he saw her.”

“She was very lovely,” said Dracia looking at the portrait.

“She was, but I always wondered at my father talking of falling in love with a woman by sight only. I thought he was joking until last summer,” said Fannar as he moved to stand just behind Dracia.

“Yet, he seemed to turn to others after your mother died,” said Dracia.

“I suppose he did. Lady Belleth was my mothers’ best friend here in Navalia. He was often in her company as he grieved. I think they were drawn together in their time of loss.”

“I wonder that he doesn’t marry her.”

“He can’t,” said Fannar. “Old Navalian law forbids remarriage of the king unless it is for the procurement of an heir. It has to do was some old romantic notions of true love that I once thought foolish.”

Dracia could feel Fannar’s breath on the back of her head. She shivered slightly and turned around to look up at Fannar as he smiled down at her.

“Do you think we could see some other parts of the palace?” asked Dracia as she lightly touched his arm.

He nodded. “I have a place I wish to show you.”

He led Dracia out of the study and to the main stairs.

“Your sister seems very close to Lady Belleth,” said Dracia as they walked together.

“She is very much a mother to Lilith. They spend much of their time together,” said Fannar. “I believe they are both avid gardeners.”

“I have heard of your sister’s interesting hobby,” said Dracia. “Maybe one day she will show me her garden.”

“You will be lucky if she does. She hasn’t let me see it in years,” said Fannar laughing slightly.

“Can I ask something that might be rude, but I am just curious about Navalia,” said Dracia as they continued to climb the stairs.

“Ask whatever you like,” said Fannar with small glance and smile at her.

“Does Lady Belleth live as your father’s wife? Does she share his rooms?”

“No, she has her own space in the north tower,” said Fannar. “It is convenient to my father as it is just off the east wing of the fifth floor, close to the royal rooms.”

Dracia nodded. “Thank you for answering. I know it was an awkward question.”

Fanar stopped her as they reached the fifth floor. “I know you have heard things about my kingdom and some of our ways. Let me assure you, that I do not intend to keep any mistresses once I am married. I hope to be married very happily to a woman I love,” said Fannar as he reached up and ran one finger down her cheek making Dracia step back.

“Was there a place you wanted to show my, your highness?” asked Dracia.

“Yes, this way,” said Fannar as he led her around the stairs to a pair of double doors. Inside was a large room with a marble floor. On one end was a dais, and the ceiling had a glass dome in the middle that showed the starry sky up above. “This is the old ball room. We had one built on the first floor, but I don’t think it is as beautiful as this one.”

“It is a lovely room,” said Dracia looking up at the skylight.

“Come, what I want to show you is just ahead,” said Fannar taking her hand.

He led her to the large window on the far end. Dracia could see that it opened up into a balcony that ran on the top of the front of the palace. He opened the door there and led her out onto the balcony. Dracia moved to the edge and had to admit it was an impressive view looking out to the city and the mountains beyond.

“How lovely this is,” said Dracia with a smile. “I think I would come here all the time if I lived here.”

“It was a favorite of my mother’s,” said Fannar coming to stand beside her. He put his hand next to hers on the rail. “I come out here often.”

Dracia looked out into the night and took a deep breath. She could feel Fannar’s eyes on her.

“Do you have any idea of how absolutely beautiful you are, my lady?” he asked after a few minutes of silence. “You must know it.”

She turned and smiled at him. “No woman wants to admit their own beauty.”

“I don’t know of any other woman who could claim it as much as you. You are truly the most beautiful creature I have ever seen.”

Dracia laughed. “I wonder how many men have said that to a woman.”

“True, but only a few who have really meant it, and I am one of the few.” He took Dracia’s hand and pulled her closer to him. “I know you are wary of me, and I know you have good reason to be. It was awful what I did to you, but I had been used to getting what I wanted. I had never had a woman not accept my advances. I was foolish to think you would be like other women.”

Dracia looked up at him, and she could feel a bit of his magic work his way from his hand and into her arm. “Your words would mean more if you didn’t try to charm me with your magic, your highness.”

He quickly let go of her hand. “I am sorry, my lady, I wasn’t lying when I said I have a hard time controlling it at times, especially when I feel strongly about something.”

“I am very cold,” said Dracia wrapping her arms around herself. “I am not angry with you, but I think we should call it a night. It is getting late after all.”

“It is, and I will gladly walk you to your room, if you will tell me I have not ruined things between us.”

Dracia smiled. “You have done nothing to change anything I feel for you, your highness. I truly understand and believe you when you say you can’t control your magic at times.”

Fannar smiled and picked up her hand again. He kissed it slowly as he looked at her. Dracia kept a smile on her face, letting him take his time. When he was done, he tucked her arm into his and led her back into the old ballroom. As they entered, Dracia could hear whispering somewhere in the darkness of the room. They both looked at each other and moved slowly deeper into the space.

Leal was standing very close to Princess Lilith. Dracia watched as the princess took both of his hands and pulled him close to her. She glanced very quickly towards Fannar and Dracia before looking back at Leal.

“You should kiss me now, my prince before you miss your chance,” said Lilith with a smile.

Dracia watched as Leal bent down and kissed Lilith passionately. The princess wrapped her arms around his neck as he encircled her in his arms. Dracia felt her breath leave her body as she struggled to stay on her feet. Fannar grabbed her hand and nodded to his right. He took her over to a side door that led to a set of stairs going down. She let him guide her down the stairs to the next floor, where he opened a door and let her pass. She saw that she was at the end of the hall where her room was located.

“Are you alright, my lady?” asked Fannar as he emerged from the doorway behind her.

“Yes,” she said breathlessly. “I just have a great need to get to my room and go to sleep. I find myself quite worn out from the day.”

“Then I will not detain you. I will only wish you a good night,” said Fannar.

Dracia nodded and walked away from him as she heard him open the door and go back up the steps. She walked towards her room, not really knowing where her feet were taking her. As she approached her door, she heard someone whisper her name. She looked closer to the main stairs to see Roderick looking at her from the landing, and she walked over to him.

“Dracia,” he said with concern taking her hand. “What happened? What did he do to you?”

Dracia shook her head. “It wasn’t him. I saw something,” she said as she felt tears fill her eyes. She looked up Roderick, her breath catching. “I saw Leal and Lilith, and they were, they…”

Roderick pulled her closer to him, bringing his hands up to rub her arms.

“He kissed her,” said Dracia in a whisper as she felt tears fall from her eyes.

“What?” asked Roderick with anger. “Where did you see this?”

“Upstairs, there is an old ball room there. He kissed her, Roderick. I saw it. How could he kiss her?” asked Dracia as she dissolved into sobs against Roderick’s chest. She felt his arms circle around her as he held her against him.

“It will be alright, Dracia. It will,” he said soothingly as he dropped a kiss on her head.

“Do you think I did something to push him away?” asked Dracia as she looked up at Roderick. “I have told him to move on from me in the past. Do you think he finally decided to do it?”

“No, of course not,” said Roderick looking down at her. “He could never move on from you. How could he?”

“With a beautiful princess it seems,” said Dracia with a small, sad smile through her tears.

“He is not himself, you know he is not, Dracia,” said Roderick.

“What do I do? I don’t know what to do. I have always known what to do, but I don’t this time.”

“You will figure it out, and I will help you. I will never leave you,” he said quietly as he held her.

She looked up at Roderick, reaching up to touch his cheek. He was so good to her. Why couldn’t she have fallen in love with someone like him? Roderick would never hurt her. There would be no insistent king to keep them apart. There would be no complications of running a kingdom, just love and companionship. Could he ever love her that way? She wondered if he could.

He leaned into her touch and stared at her with his intense blue eyes as she licked her lips. She wondered for one second what it would be like to kiss him. His lips looked so soft, and his arms felt so good around her. She almost leaned up to see what would happen. Would he lean down towards her? Did he want to kiss her? She quickly moved away from him. It would be wrong. She was upset about Leal, and she could not do this to Roderick. He was too good. He had been too good of a friend to her, and he did not deserve this.

“I should go to bed,” she said quietly.

“Are you sure you will be alright?” he asked.

“I am. I just need rest and time to think,” said Dracia. “I will see you in the morning.”

Roderick nodded. “Good night, Dracia.”

“Good night, Roderick” said Dracia. Before she turned to go, she leaned up and kissed him softly on his cheek.

She walked down slowly to her room and got to her door. As she put her hand on her door, she suddenly felt very cold. Her heart started racing and a pain shot through her. She managed to open her door as another pain went through her body. She stepped in her room and reached for the door to close it when another pain hit her. She felt herself shake as she grew colder and colder.

She moved to the fireplace and held out a trembling hand, managing just to spark a fire there. Another pain hit her, and she cried out, falling to her knees in front of the fire. She didn’t have the strength to fight back against the attack. She didn’t think she had the desire to do anything at all. Another pain hit her and breathing became hard. Maybe Lilith had gotten what she wanted, and decided she could kill Dracia. Dracia looked over and saw her Sentinel cloak lying on the chair. She grabbed it and collapsed on the soft rug in front of the fireplace. Wrapping herself in her black cloak, she laid on her stomach and let the darkness overtake her.

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