The Sentinel of Cassendar: Navalia

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Chapter 28

Dracia ran a brush through her hair as she sat at the small vanity in her room in the Winter Palace. She sat the brush down and studied her reflection. She did look as tired as she felt. She was hoping she could disguise it with some light powder and positive thinking, but there was no hiding the dark circles under her eyes. She propped her elbow up on the vanity and rubbed her forehead taking deep breaths, telling herself she could do this.

“You don’t need to go downstairs, Dracia,” said Leal as he walked up behind her. “Why does it matter if they are suspicious. They probably already know I am in your room. Let them think what they will and come lay in the bed and sleep.”

Dracia looked up at him in the mirror and shook her head. “I need to find a way to see what is really going on. I must mingle downstairs and spend time with King Arnar and Lady Belleth if I can. They know enough about our own suspicions to be worried. I have a feeling they will strike soon to get what they want, and I will need to act quickly.”

“You are putting too much on yourself,” said Leal. “We can retreat in the night. We can spread word through the court and run away back to Lanoxan and prepare for war.”

“You know they are watching our every move. They have numerous guards and soldiers all around the palace. We wouldn’t get to the outer border of the city before we were caught by more soldiers and guards than even I can stop,” said Dracia, turning to Leal. “I have to think of way for them to let us go; a way we can get out of the city, at least far enough to make a true retreat.”

“How do you plan to do it?” asked Leal.

“I am still working it out, but do not worry, I will get you out of Navalia, my prince,” said Dracia, taking his hand.

“We will leave Navalia together or not at all,” said Leal pulling her close. “Whatever it is your planning, know that I will not leave this place unless you are by my side.”

Dracia looked down and swallowed before looking up at him. “I need you to have complete trust in me. Even if things don’t seem right to you, I need you to know I have things under control. You have to let me do the things I need to do to save your family.”

“Our family, Dracia. You mean our family because you are a Cassendar. You cannot deny it anymore; I won’t let you.”

“I don’t want to deny it,” said Dracia. “I have never wanted to deny being married to you, but the true fact is, if something happened to me, you could find another. Don’t argue with me; I know all that you will say. You and your sister are truly essential to the kingdom of Lanoxan. A Cassendar must reign over the kingdom; I truly believe it.”

Leal pulled her against him and wrapped his arms around her as she leaned her head against his shoulder. “If you know what I am going to say, then you know I will not let you harm yourself in any way for my benefit.”

“Just trust me, please,” said Dracia. “I can promise you I will do everything I can to leave this place with you.”

Leal squeezed her tight for a moment and kissed her forehead before letting her go.

“How are you feeling?” asked Dracia as she smoothed out her skirt.

“I feel fine, just a little tired,” answered Leal. “I’m feel a little couped up, but there is nowhere I really want to go in this gods forsaken place. If you were with me all the time, I would be very content.”

“I will be here as much as I can, and we will be leaving soon. Malven should be here in a moment to sit with you. You cannot leave these rooms. We don’t know what pull Lilith and Belleth may have over you still. I will be back as soon as I can tonight, but if you become tired, please do not wait on me to go to bed.”

“But I prefer to wait up for you, especially with how fetching you look in that gown,” said Leal taking her hand again and looking her up and down. He pulled her in suddenly and kissed her, his arms wrapping around her waist. “If you don’t leave soon, I may not be able to let you go anywhere.” Leal kissed her again as he moved his hands slowly up her sides. A knock at the door made him stop and turn from her.

“I believe that will be Malven, which is good timing, I suppose, if I am going to go downstairs.”

“Horrible timing, a few more minutes and I could have convinced you to let me dismiss him for the evening while you stayed here with me,” said Leal looking back at her and kissing her just below her ear.

“I have no doubt you could, but I really do have to go,” said Dracia moving away from him as he gave a loud sigh.

She moved and answered the door, greeting Malven and letting him inside.

“Do not let him leave this room no matter what, Malven. I have two Elites patrolling the halls, but I would rather not have to hear of one of them escorting Leal to my room,” said Dracia with a small smile.

“He will not get past me, High Captain,” said Malven as he tilted his head. “Or should I address you as your highness now? I supposed I should have for a while now.”

“No, High Captain is fine. I am still the High Captain of the Sentinel,” said Dracia as she adjusted her hair and the large Siccarian ring on her finger. “Besides, I have not been recognized by the king, so I am not even sure I really am a princess.”

“You are my princess,” said Leal. “My father can say whatever he wants, not that he would at this point.”

Dracia smiled and looked at Leal. “I have to go. I will have Galen see that your food sent up is clear of anything that need not be there. Be kind to Malven.”

“I am always kind to Malven, much kinder than he is to me,” said Leal as Malven laughed. “Laugh all you want, Malven, you know it is true.”

“You both behave while I am gone,” said Dracia fondly as she walked towards the door.

“Dracia,” said Leal as Dracia put her hand on the door handle. “Please be careful. Do not go anywhere by yourself. Remember you are not in this alone.”

“No, High Captain, you are definitely not alone,” said Malven.

“I know, and I thank you both for reminding me,” said Dracia as she smiled at the two men before leaving the room and closing the door.

Dracia met Ethen and Maia outside of the banquet hall. Both were dressed in red and gold to match Dracia. They walked in together, greeting lords and ladies of both the Cassendar and Navalian court, Dracia trying to keep her expression neutral as she met those lords whose names were marked on Belleth’s map.

“King Arnar is by himself close to the high table,” said Maia in a whisper to Dracia. “Now would be a good time to approach him.”

Dracia nodded and walked over to Arnar, who was drinking a glass of wine, looking very bored.

“Your majesty,” said Dracia giving a deep curtsey. “I hope you are well this evening.”

King Arnar looked at her for a moment as though trying to place her. He eventually shook his head and smiled at her. “I am as well as I can be, High Captain. I hope you have enjoyed your time in our kingdom thus far.”

“It has been very interesting,” said Dracia moving a little closer to the king as Ethen gave a slight cough. She could almost hear Maia’s thoughts telling Ethen to be quiet. “But I haven’t been able to speak with you very often. I would like to get to know you better.” Dracia gave him what she hoped was a coquettish smile.

“I understand you have spent some time in my son’s company,” said the king as he took a drink. “Fannar seems very taken with you.”

“I am honored he would speak well of me, your majesty. I have enjoyed getting to know him better,” said Dracia smiling through the partial lie. She hadn’t minded some of her time with Fannar. He had helped her gain needed information. She could do without the flirting or so much touching, but it hadn’t been as bad as she had feared.

“It seems you will have much opportunity to get to know my son even better in the near future, with the wedding celebrations coming up soon,” said the king looking down at her. “Unless you already know him well enough.”

“How do you ever know if you really know someone well enough,” said Dracia with a stupid laugh that made her inwardly cringe as she dropped her voice to a low purr. “I suppose there are a few certain ways.” Dracia dared to put her hand on the king’s arm.

She felt a bolt of something run through her and for a brief moment she felt as though she could understand what he was thinking. She looked beyond the simple lust she was a little surprised he was experiencing to have her so near, to something else, something that seemed wrong. Dracia looked over slightly at Ethen as she kept her hand on the king’s arm. She could see him looking at her intently before she turned back to face the king.

He was looking down at her hand on his arm with a confused look. He looked up a Dracia oddly as though she had told him some strange new fact. “You are very right, High Captain,” he said in a voice barely above a whisper.

“Father, are you dominating this charming woman’s time? Others of us would like to enjoy her smiles,” said Fannar as he walked over to stand next to his father.

“She is rather captivating,” said the king as Dracia let go of his arm.

“She is,” said Ethen as he moved up and took Dracia’s arm. “It seems the time has gone rather quickly, and it is almost time to sit for the meal. Let me escort you, High Captain. Maia, darling, would you entertain the king and prince until I return?”

“Of course, Ethen, I would be happy to spend a moment with our hosts,” said the Maia walking forward to smile at both men.

Ethen led Dracia to the side of the room, close to a long table. “Good gods, Dracia, I doubt that teach you to act like that in the Sentinel.”

“No, but high ladies of the court of Cassendar do teach it to their daughters, Ethen,” said Dracia with a smile. “You did tell me there were many different ways to show strength and power. Women have to use all tools at their disposal in a world dominated by men in power.”

“I know you are right. I am rather glad I am not around to see how Maia is talking with the king and prince at the moment,” said Ethen shaking his head slightly.

“Was it just me, or did you pick up on something odd about King Arnar?” asked Dracia very quietly.

“No, it was not just you. I could easily read your thoughts and some of his. There is something there; it is almost like someone is whispering in his ear, telling him what to say and do. I don’t think he wanted to listen to it during your conversation with him. It was like you were blocking whatever or whoever was speaking to him.”

Dracia looked at Ethen with a raised eyebrow. “Are you saying I was shielding him in some way?”

“I am. I believe you do have some of the Cassendar power at your disposal, at least it seemed like it to me.”

Dracia smiled brightly. “If that is so, this all got so much easier.”

“What are you planning, Captain?” asked Ethen warily.

“I’m not sure yet, but I will tell you as soon as I know because I believe I will need your help, if you are still seriously about staying here for me.”

“There have only been one or two things I have been more serious about,” said Ethen fiercely. “Whatever help you need from me, you shall have it.”

Dracia ate dinner next to Roderick, and they happened to be seated next to the Nests and Isadels. Dracia’s opportunity for conversation was very limited as she was seated next to young Lord Martin. He seemed shy and embarrassed when she addressed him though she did try to speak periodically to him throughout the meal.

“How do you find Navalia?” she asked him as he blushed.

He seemed at a loss for words for a moment before he answered. “It is very cold.”

Dracia held back a laugh. “That is true, though it doesn’t seem to bother your intended. Do you think she shall be happy in Lanoxan with our warm summers?”

Martin looked over at Lena Isadel who was speaking with her mother, ignoring Martin. “She says she will. I suppose she will find out.”

And are you happy with your upcoming marriage, my lord?” asked Dracia quietly.

Martin looked down at his food. “I might as well be. It is a settled thing.”

Dracia felt pity for him. It seemed he was becoming wise to Lena, seeing past her pretty exterior. “Wait and see,” she whispered as she picked up her wine glass. “Do not think you do not have options. There are things happening you do not know.”

Martin looked up at Dracia as she looked at the high table. Lilith was staring at her, and the look in her eyes was not kind. Dracia watched as Lilith narrowed her eyes at her. She felt a slight twinge in her side, but nothing more. Dracia continued to stare at Lilith, and finally raised her glass slightly and smiled at the Navalian princess. Princess Lilith sat back in her chair and turned to Lady Belleth who sat near her. Belleth put her hand on Lilith’s and shook her head.

“Are you well, High Captain?” asked Martin causing Dracia took look at him.

“Yes, I am very well, all will be well,” said Dracia as she smiled at him.

After the supper, Dracia walked to one side of the room as Roderick moved to keep an eye on Darron. It wasn’t long before Princess Lilith came up to Dracia, giving her a nasty smile.

“High Captain, I have not seen Prince Leal all day. Do you know if he is unwell?” asked Lilith.

“I believe he has not been feeling his usual self for a few days. It was suggested by his healer that he rest and keep to himself a day or two. I am sure with some peace and quiet, he will soon be back to his normal state.”

“He seemed fine to me last night. In fact, I rather think he was happier than I had ever seen him,” said Lilith with a small laugh.

“I can say for a fact he was very happy last night,” said Dracia daringly. “But he is still rather tired and prefers to stay in. Of course, maybe he is just tired of this place.”

“I think we should drop any hints of politeness, High Captain,” said the princess in angry whisper.

“I have no intentions of being polite to you, not after all that you have done. Whatever hold you think you have on Leal is going to be gone very quickly. I am on to you, princess, and I will not let you have him, no matter what I have to do.”

Princess Lilith laughed. “You have no idea of what power I still hold over him. Whatever you have done to protect yourself will not work on him, not after what I have been able to do with him. Besides, I believe there are plenty others in my palace you care about. I doubt you can protect all of them.”

“You would be surprised at what I can actually do, princess,” said Dracia swallowing her fear. “Many people have underestimated me, and most of them are dead.”

“Are you threatening me, a princess of Navalia?” asked Lilith as she moved very close to Dracia.

Dracia looked down at the princess with a scowl. “I don’t threaten, princess. An Elite of the Sentinel never threatens. We only give promises that we always keep. I can promise you if you harm anyone I care about, I will not rest until you pay for it.”

“Princess Lilith, you should not inconvenience the High Captain so. She is always on duty I understand. You must not get in her way with some idle conversation,” said Lady Belleth as she walked over to Dracia and Lilith.

Dracia stared at the woman, seeing behind her false smile to the sinister look in her eye. “I don’t mind speaking with the princess,” said Dracia haughtily. “There were things I needed to let her know, but I think we are very clear on everything at this point.”

“Oh, is there anything I should be aware of?” asked Lady Belleth looking at Lilith.

“Don’t worry, my lady, my time for a conversation with you is coming fast. I will find you when I am ready,” said Dracia as she moved to walk past both ladies.

Lady Belleth caught her arm and leaned in. “Do not think you can intimidate me in any way, High Captain. You may have impressive skills, but you have no idea what I am capable of. I could take your precious prince away from you with a snap of my fingers. I can see your kingdom burned to the ground, and I will make sure your family is not even a memory when I am through. Do not cross me.”

Dracia looked at the woman, feeling hatred and power seemly emitting from all parts of her. Dracia would not back down, she felt her own power rise within her, and she started speaking without realizing what she was saying. “You think you know me, but you have no idea of who I really am. I can destroy everything you have worked for, and you know it. I can expose every one of your secrets, and see that all you hold dear is destroyed. It is you who will be no more than some distant half memory.”

Dracia closed her eyes for a moment and then opened them as some strange language came off her tongue. She did not know how she was speaking it, but she knew what she was saying. “Begone from here, you are nothing but a death throe of an evil that has already been defeated. I will finish what should have been done long ago.”

Lady Belleth dropped Dracia’s arm quickly and stepped back as though she had been stung by something or stabbed with a sword. Dracia looked back at Lilith and Belleth before turning and walking away. She scanned the room until she found who she was looking for.

“Colm,” she said taking his hand. “Come with me, I must speak with you.”

Colm gave her a concerned look, but nodded and followed her into a deserted corner of the room.

“I need you to listen to me, and do exactly as I say. Do you understand me?” asked Dracia.

“What is wrong, Dracia?” asked Colm.

“I can’t get into it, but know that what I say is something you must do. You cannot question it. I only want to keep you safe and see to the future of our family.”

“You are scaring me, sister,” said Colm.

“Good, you need to be afraid,” said Dracia squeezing his hand. “I need you to go now and write a letter to your wife. Tell her to pack up herself and your children and go to our family’s summer manor. She must go as soon as she gets your letter. I will send a letter to the Sentinel and have two Elites travel with them. Then you need to write a letter to our brother and tell him to go to the summer manor as well. He is too close to the northern part of the kingdom at the moment. He will be safer in the secluded manor in the high hills.”

“You want me to send my wife and children out on the winter road to our summer manor in the high hills? Do you know how treacherous that is, Dracia?”

“No more dangerous than them staying in Winsdell at the moment. They need to get as far away from the High Palace as they can. You will leave tomorrow on your horse and go to the summer manor as well. I would try to convince mother and father to go, but I don’t think they can ride all the way as you can, and their carriage would make them too vulnerable.

“You will tell your attendant to have your horse ready at first light, and you will depart form here then. You will take only what you can carry.”

“Dracia, you have to tell me more if you want me to do this,” said Colm. “This all sounds rather mad.”

“There is an evil here in Navalia, and I am afraid no matter what I do it will spread before it can be defeated. I will stall it as long as I can, but you must get out of here. You are the future of our family, you and your children. Go to them and keep them safe.”

“Dracia, do you hear yourself?” asked Colm. “It cannot be this bad.”

“It is. Do not ask me how I know, but I do know it. Please promise me you will do exactly as I have asked.”

“If it is so bad here, do you think I could actually leave you at the mercy of it? What will you do?”

“I will do as I have promised and defend the Cassendar family and Lanoxan. I know what I am doing, Colm, but I cannot guarantee the outcome. You need to leave, please.”

“I don’t know if I can leave you, and mother and father. What if something happens to any of you?”

“I will see to the safety of mother and father, but you need to think of your wife and children. You have to keep them safe. Please go now, and do as I asked,” said Dracia as she felt tears come to her eyes, and she gripped her brother’s hand.

Colm finally nodded. “I will do it. I don’t like it, but I will do as you ask, if you promise me, you will keep yourself safe as well. You are so focused on everyone else, but I need you to promise me you will find a way to make it out of here.”

Dracia was silent. She wanted to be able to make that promise, but she wasn’t for sure she could keep it. She finally nodded. “I will see you soon, brother. As soon as I am safe from Navalia, I will contact you.”

Colm pulled her to him and hugged her. “I will go, and do as you ask because I trust and love you. Please write me as soon as you are able. I will do anything you need of me, you just have to let me know.”

Dracia nodded as she pulled back. “Just see to our family’s future for now. I will contact you soon.”

Her brother kissed her hand and then let it go, walking quickly out of the room. Dracia looked out over the room. She would need to see to getting as many of the families form Lanoxan out as possible soon, but she was very tired. The weight of the past days started pressing down on her, and she knew if she left now, she might be able to make it to her room.

She turned and walked towards the door, seeing Roderick watch her out of the corner of her eye. She turned and gave him as much of a reassuring smile as she could as she walked through the doorway. She made it to her door just as she felt like she would collapse. Walking into her room, Malven rose to meet her from the sofa by the fireplace.

“The prince fell asleep not long ago,” said Malven in a whisper pointing to the bed. He looked closely at Dracia. “Are you well, High Captain?”

She nodded. “I am just very tired.”

“Do you want me to call an attendant to help you undress?” asked Malven.

“No, there are none here I trust. If you would just unbutton me before you leave, I will see to the rest.”

“You want me to unbutton your dress?” asked Malven astonished.

“Yes, I trust you know how to unbutton a woman’s dress, if your reputation is well earned,” said Dracia with a slight laugh.

“It’s just,” said Malven with a slight stutter. “I am not sure the prince would like it.”

“It can be our secret, Malven,” said Dracia. “Please just do it. All I want to do is crawl into bed.”

Malven sighed as Dracia turned her back to him. He stood very far back from her and leaned forward, looking away, fumbling with the buttons down her back.

“You are going to have to look to be able to do this,” said Dracia looking back at him. “I’d really rather not cut this lovely dress, which I am about to do, if you do not get me out of it.”

Malven sighed again and looked down at her back. He expertly undid her buttons faster than she thought possible, and quickly stepped away, looking anywhere but at her.

Dracia turned around with a smile. “It seems your reputation is well earned,” said Dracia. “That was faster than even my mother’s seasoned attendant can undo a dress.”

“Do you require any other assistance, High Captain?” asked Malven not looking at her.

“Unless you want to help me with a bath,” said Dracia trying not to laugh.

Malven looked at her with horror on his face, causing Dracia to give a very small laugh.

“You may go,” said Dracia waving him away. “Thank you, Malven. I did not mean to tease you so.”

“You are welcome, High Captain. I will put it on my list to find you a trusted female attendant as soon as we are away from here,” said Malven as he walked out the door and shut it.

Dracia stepped out of her dress and put it over a chair to see to it in the morning. She walked over to her wardrobe and pulled out a nightgown and slipped it over her head. She yawned as she walked around the room, blowing out candles lit on various tables before she stumbled to the bed. She stopped and looked down at Leal who seemed to be sleeping soundly. Careful to not disturb him she slipped into the bed, under the covers, blowing out the candle next to her. As soon as she grew still, she fell asleep.

She awoke sometime later in the dark room. In fact, it was much too dark and much too cold. She sat up slightly and rubbed her eyes, trying to figure out what was going on. There was no fire in the fireplace. She could barely see anything in her room as there was no moonlight coming through the windows. Dracia sat up further and sparked a small fire in her hand. She looked at the bed next to her to see Leal was not there.

Before she could get out of bed to search for him, she heard a slight noise next to her. She saw a figure at the corner of her eye standing by the bed. The figure held something in their hand, and she saw the hand began to move down towards her. She rolled quickly in the bed and looked over. Leal was bent over her side of the bed, his hand held a dagger that was embedded deep into the mattress.

Dracia hopped out of the bed and looked at Leal. He had stood back up with the dagger holding it up as he stared at her.

“Leal, what are you doing?” asked Dracia as he started to circle around the bed towards her.

He did not answer, he only advanced towards her, his eyes cold and distant.

“Leal, please stop. You don’t know what you are doing,” she said as she faced him.

He kept coming towards her, the dagger ready to strike. She moved backwards toward the center of the room as he walked towards her. She slowed down and let him come near. When he was within reach, he lunged for her with the dagger, but she moved swiftly around him, grabbing his hand with the dagger and brining it behind his back. She held his hand behind him, putting pressure on his arm until his hand opened, releasing the dagger. She kept a hold on him, trying to still her breath as he struggled against her.

“Leal, please stop. I don’t want to hurt you” said Dracia as she kicked the dagger away.

She kept a hold of his arm, and used it to turn him around to face her. He stopped struggling, but he would not look at her. He stared at the floor, as she stood in front of him.

“Leal,” said Dracia quietly as she used her free hand to reach for his face.

She bent down slightly as she touched his face to look at him. She caught his eyes and he looked at her with no expression, his eyes almost lifeless. She pulled him closer to her and kept her hand on his cheek, trying to make sure he kept eye contact with her. She felt a power within her move, going to her arms and out to her hands. As she stared at him, she felt her power begin to take over her.

You know who you are”, she said in the old Cassendar tongue that came to her so easily.

He closed his eyes, and she saw two tears fall down his face. When he opened his eyes, Dracia could see they were so bright green, they almost glowed in the dark room.
Who I am calls out for you,” he said quietly in what Dracia knew was the same ancient language she had just spoke.

And I will always respond,” she heard herself say.

She pulled him to her and held him, feeling her power cover him as he leaned against her. After a moment, she felt him pull away, and she looked at him.

“Dracia?” he asked looking around the room. “What has happened?”

She smiled, feeling tears come to her eyes. “It was nothing, my love. You just need to rest.”

He looked at her, his hands coming up to her face as he wiped her tears with his thumbs.

“Tell me what is wrong,” he asked. “Tell me what happened.”

“It doesn’t matter because I will not let it happen again. Now go to bed, while I relight the fire, “said Dracia as she grabbed his hands and brought them down.

He looked at her like he would say more, but he only nodded and leaned forward, kissing her forehead before he walked over and got into the bed. Dracia took a few breaths to calm herself and then went and sparked a fire in the fireplace. On the way back to bed, she picked up the dagger on the floor and looked at it. She saw that it was very familiar. It was the same dagger Lilith had sent Leal for his birthday. The dagger Leal had given Malven to discard somehow. Dracia sighed knowing she would have to question Malven tomorrow, not even considering that Malven could have betrayed them somehow because she knew it was not a possibility.

She took the knife and placed it in a draw of the vanity for the time being and walked over and got into bed. Leal pulled her to him as soon as she was settled and held her. She felt him drift off quickly, but she didn’t dare sleep. She thought over what she would have to do tomorrow because their escape from Navalia could not wait another day.

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