Dracia stood in front of Lady Glain wondering what she had ever done to make the woman dislike her so. It couldn’t just be that Roderick and Galen had chosen the Sentinel as Dracia had no part in it. They made the decisions on their own. She was only a novice herself when Roderick joined. It seemed whatever Lady Glain had against her went much further than the current positions of her sons.
Dracia hated that Roderick’s mother didn’t like her, because Roderick was one of the most important people in Dracia’s life. Besides Leal and Lexine, Dracia couldn’t think of anyone she valued as much as Roderick, not even her own parents. She loved her father, but she didn’t trust him as she did Roderick. Dracia loved her mother, because she was her mother, but there was no real affection there.
She was very fond of Roderick. She loved him in some way, not as she loved Leal, but as a trusted friend she depended on. He was so steady and loyal. She had told him he was one of the best men she had ever known, and she meant it. When she thought of everything that was good and right, she immediately thought of Roderick.
Dracia noticed that Lady Glain seemed very agitated with her. She looked as if she was about to argue with Dracia when Dracia felt Roderick lightly grab her arm. He told her, her mother was wanting to speak with her. Dracia looked to see her mother waving her over. Dracia sighed. To go from one woman who disliked her to another who found every fault with her, it wasn’t a very good trade off. She took her leave of the Ellises and walked over to her mother.
“Good evening, my dear,” said Lady Owena taking Dracia’s hand. “I am glad you wore the dress I sent over. You look very well tonight.”
Dracia gave her mother a skeptical look. “Thank you, mother.”
“You don’t have to say it like that. I meant what I said. You do look lovely tonight. You have grown into many features that are very pleasing.”
Dracia stared at her mother like she didn’t know her. She had never said so many nice things about Dracia in one sentence.
“Of course, you usually slunk around like a great big man in your uniform and sword,” said Lady Owena taking a drink from the wine glass in her hand.
Dracia rolled her eyes, actually feeling a bit of comfort hearing her mother talk as she usually did.
“Don’t roll your eyes so, Dracia. A lady of the court does not do such things. Stand up straight as well. You never could show off your figure properly.”
“I thought you didn’t want me to tower over all the men, mother,” said Dracia shaking her head.
“I didn’t call you over here to argue,” said her mother.
“Why did you want to speak with me?” asked Dracia, wanting very much to walk away.
“You are my daughter. Do I need an excuse to speak with you?”
“You rarely seek me at court functions unless father makes you. You never write me to come visit you at the manor or come visit me at the Fortress. So, you will see why I am skeptical you would call me over here with no agenda.”
“I saw you speaking with Lady Ellis. What reason do you have to speak to such a lower lady of the court?”
“She is the mother to my second and dear friend. Her youngest son, Galen is also my most promising novice. She deserves my notice for those two things alone.”
“Yes, I see you do enjoy her middle son’s company very much. I would say I see you by his side more than any other man of the court,” said her mother taking another sip of wine.
“He is my second. We are often together for Sentinel business,” said Dracia crossing her arms.
“For heaven’s sake, Dracia, put your arms down. It isn’t dignified, and it is pushing up your dress, and other things.”
Dracia dropped her arms with a loud sigh.
“You are always sighing as well. Perhaps you should just marry the Ellis boy and be done with it. If you are going to act like this, you most likely won’t do better.”
“It is not like that with Roderick and me. We are fellow Elites of the Sentinel. We are devoted to one another and bonded over our duty and friendship and that is all,” said Dracia in exasperation.
“Calm down, my dear, you will draw attention to yourself. What did Lady Glain have to say to you?”
“She doesn’t seem to like me. It seems you and she have that in common,” said Dracia.
“Don’t sulk, Dracia, and don’t talk nonsense. Lady Glain and I do not have much in common at all, especially any dislike of you. How can you think I dislike you? I have tried to help you your whole life.”
“By belittling me, and telling me everything that is wrong with my appearance and personality?”
“By preparing you for the life you should lead as a high lady of the court of Cassendar and possibly more,” said Lady Owena, her voice rising.
Dracia looked at her mother, and the confusion must have been written clearly on her face.
“You are the only daughter of the highest lord in this kingdom,” said her mother more composed and quieter. “You were raised alongside the prince and princess. You are very intelligent, and you are beautiful. You should be so much more than you are now. You still could be, Dracia.”
Dracia had never heard her mother talk so about her. She didn’t know what to say as her mother looked at her. She felt a hand lightly touch the small of her back. It stayed there for a second, and then it was gone. She looked over to see Leal standing next to her, smiling at her mother.
“Lady Owena, it is good to see you this evening,” said Leal with a slight bow.
“Your highness,” said Lady Owena with a quick curtsey.
“Would you mind if I stole your lovely daughter for a moment. I have some Sentinel business I need to speak of with the High Captain.”
“You may take her for as long as you wish. I believe our conversation was at an end,” said Lady Owena with a smile.
Dracia nodded. “Yes, I believe it was. Have a good evening, mother.”
Leal offered Dracia his arm and walked her away as he looked over his shoulder. He took her to the back of the room and through a door that led to a small hallway. From there he brought her through a door on the right into a little used parlor, shutting the door behind them. He walked up to her and took her hands.
“Are you alright, my love?” he asked.
“Yes, I am fine. I just had to endure two conversation with two women who don’t seem to like me very much, though my mother argues it isn’t true for her.
“Two women? asked Leal.
“I am not a favorite with Lady Glain Ellis. I think she blames me for Galen joining the Sentinel, but her dislike for me seems to run deeper than just that.”
“Who knows. She seems like a very unhappy woman to me, not that I know her well,” said Leal. “Why were you speaking with your mother, anyway?”
“She called me over to speak with her. I couldn’t ignore her request in public.”
“What did she want?” asked Leal.
“To tell me I look lovely,” said Dracia mocking her mother’s voice and dropping Leal’s hands to wave her own around. “But I slouch too much, and I shouldn’t sigh so loud. Also, I shouldn’t cross my arms because it wrinkles my dress, and pushes my breast up too far.”
Leal laughed. “Did she really say that last bit?”
“Not in those words, but yes, she said it pushes up my dress and other things. She said it wasn’t dignified.”
Leal laughed again. You could show me what she means if you would like. I don’t think I would mind or find it undignified.”
Dracia swatted her hand at him, but he caught it and brought it to his lips, kissing it lovingly.
“How is everything else going? Have you had any more attacks?”
“Just one last night when I was trying to sleep,” said Dracia. “I felt as though I couldn’t catch my breath, and I couldn’t get warm no matter how high the fire was.”
Leal growled. “I knew I should have come to you last night. You should not be alone at any time.”
“You can’t come to me every night,” said Dracia. “People will notice and notify the king, or others. I can’t help but think the Navalians must have spies somewhere amongst us.”
“I know,” said Leal. “I don’t want to do anything to put you in more danger, but it is very hard being away from you. Especially when I know you could be attacked at any moment. You are wearing your locket at all times, aren’t you? I believe it will give you at least some protection.”
“I wear it when I can,” said Dracia. “I forgot to put it on last night after my bath, and I couldn’t very well wear it around my neck tonight. It is in my pocket, though.” She reached into the pocket of her skirt and pulled out the locket.
Leal grabbed her hand with the locket and squeezed it. “Do not forget to put it on before you sleep. You need any protection you can get, especially when you are alone and vulnerable.”
Dracia nodded. “Have you heard from Princess Lilith or her father?”
“I received a message this morning. They are expecting us in less than two months. She, her father, and her brother are insisting you are a part of our traveling party.”
“Of course, I will come with you. The High Captain always travels with the royal family. I will bring several Elites with us, and maybe a novice or two I think is ready.”
“Has Lexine already been on you about including Galen on our trip?”
“I will not divulge what your sister and I talk about in confidence, Leal,” said Dracia smiling. “Besides, it would be wise to bring Galen with his healing abilities. I will also want to continue his training as we will be gone for some time.”
“I didn’t expect to actually speak of Sentinel business when I brought you in here, High Captain,” said Leal grabbing both of her hands and bringing her close.
“What did you want to speak with me about, your highness?” asked Dracia smiling up at him.
“I wanted to tell you how absolutely beautiful you look tonight. I do like this color on you. It is very close to the Cassendar green I hope to see on your regularly.”
“This is peacock green as is befitting for a lady of my house,” said Dracia as she wrapped her arms around his neck.
“It is close enough where I can imagine you are attending this festival with me as my wife. Let me have my fantasy,” he said bending down and kissing her.
“And how will you reconcile your fantasy when, in a moment, I am sitting at the table below you and not by your side?”
“I will imagine you are my future queen, which you are, and you are visiting with our people. You are much loved by the whole kingdom, after all. Sometimes I do have to share you the people of the court.”
“And what of after when we cannot be seen together?” asked Dracia.
“I will make sure I am always speaking to someone close to you, so I can imagine we are only doing our duty side by side. This whole fantasy will come together nicely when you are in our rooms tonight.”
“Dracia pulled back slightly and looked at him. “In our rooms, here? How do you think you can manage it?”
“Lexine will come speak with you at the end of the night. Go with her, and tell Roderick and all the others to head back to the Fortress without you. I will make sure Roderick knows not to expect you. Lexine has something to show you in her own rooms. It is not unusual for her to invite her most beloved friend to her rooms.”
“And what if someone sees me enter a different room than the princess’s?”
“They won’t. Malven is seeing to clearing the halls himself. You will come to me tonight, won’t you?” he asked as he bent down and kissed her again.
“We need to get back to the hall. The banquet will be starting soon,” said Dracia as she pulled back, Leal bending down to kiss her neck.
“Then, say you will come. You know you will say yes eventually, so go ahead and do it now, before we are late.”
Dracia sighed as he continued to kiss her neck. “Yes, I will come. Once again I find myself very foolish around you.”
“Perhaps it is foolish for you,” said Leal leaning up to quickly kiss her lips. “But loving you is the best decision I have ever made, not that I really had a choice.”
“Then let’s get back to the banquet before I change my mind,” said Dracia grabbing his hand and leading him to the door. She opened it and looked out to find the hallway deserted. She looked back at Leal. “I am hoping you do see that I don’t regret my choice, later. I hope tonight is worth the risk.”
“I will see that it is,” said Leal.
Dracia sat next to Roderick at the front table below Leal. Darron chose to sit over close to some other Upper Elites, and Dracia didn’t mind. She ate her food, and chatted with Roderick, him making her laugh periodically with his thoughts on many of those around the room. Dracia looked up often to see Leal looking at her. She looked at the table to her right to see her mother’s eyes often on her as well. They seemed to be searching Dracia, trying to figure something out. Dracia was glad when the meal was over, and she could walk around the room.
She spoke with several of her Elites and a few of her novices and their families. As Novice Tomas greeted the High Captain with his father and brother, she couldn’t help but notice he seemed very out of sorts and sulky. She saw him periodically looking behind her. She turned and saw Novice Cara speaking with a younger Elite. Dracia smiled thinking of the trials of young love.
“High Captain, I am glad to see you tonight,” said King Rommel, Leal’s father as he walked up to Dracia.
“Thank you, your majesty,” said Dracia as she dropped into a curtsey.
“Will you walk with me for a moment?” he asked as he held out his arm.
Dracia hesitated, seeing Leal look at her just behind his father. She took the king’s arm and nodded. He led her to the left side of the room, away from most of the crowd.
“I haven’t thanked you for all you did to keep my kingdom safe during the battle this summer,” said the king.
“You do not need to thank me,” said Dracia as she let the king’s arm go. “I was only doing my duty.”
“Still, from what I have heard, you were very impressive. I believe our Sentinel is in good hands under your leadership.”
“I am glad to hear you say it. I believe not long ago you had questions of my leadership and wanted me to step down.”
The king took a moment before he answered. “I never had any questions about your leadership. I believe I let personal feelings get in the way. You are a worthy High Captain of the Sentinel. I have not valued your leadership and skills as I should.”
Dracia closed her eyes for a moment, thinking how to answer this. “It seems you have changed your mind after getting what you wanted,” said Dracia deciding to speak honestly.
“I am very happy Prince Leal has decided to do the right thing and marry the Navalian Princess. I am also glad the princess was able to spare your life. I have never wanted you to come to harm, not truly,” said the king as he pulled out a small silver flask and took a long drink.
“As long as I stayed away from your son, that is,” said Dracia as she moved slightly away from the king.
“It wasn’t due to any defects found in you. I want you to know it. I should not have made light of Leal’s feelings for you. You are a worthy young woman. There are just other things to consider that have nothing to do with you.”
“I know all about them,” said Dracia. “I know how you have worried over this so called curse and trusted our kingdom to foretellers and oracles.”
“I don’t wish to argue about this, High Captain. I just wanted to say I hope you will stay and lead the Sentinel even after the prince’s marriage, but I understand if you need to leave. I will be disappointed to lose someone as talented as you, but I will hold you no ill will.”
Dracia looked at the king, wondering what he would think once Leal backed out on his marriage with Princess Lilith. She wondered what he might do. “I have no plans to leave the Sentinel presently,” said Dracia. “I will only leave for a very good reason, and I will give you plenty of notice if I can.”
“Very well,” said the king as he took another drink. “I look forward to many years of your service to the kingdom and me.”
“We shall see your majesty,” said Dracia as she turned and walked away.
As Dracia moved around the room, speaking with different people, she noticed Leal was always close by. Sometimes he would let his hand brush hers as he made his way past her. At one point they found themselves alone for a moment at the very right side of the room. They stood casually next to each other, seeming to both be observing the others in the room silently.
“How are you holding up his evening, my princess,” whispered Leal giving her a small smile.
“Are you still living out your fantasy?” asked Dracia quietly as she noticed the small thrill that went through her body as he addressed her as his princess.
“I am merely addressing you as I should,” said Leal moving slightly closer to her.
“I’m very ready for this party to be at an end,” said Dracia as she turned very slowly away from him.
“What did my father want from you?” Leal asked as he looked in the other direction.
“To tell me he appreciated my service, and hoped I would continue on at the Sentinel after your marriage,” answered Dracia.
“I suppose he will be in for a rude awakening soon, though it shouldn’t be that much of a shock to him. He has known for years of my love for you.”
“I don’t want to speak of your father right now. I find that I long to retire to our rooms.”
“It is late enough,” said Leal. “I will go find Lexine. You go stand next to Roderick, and she will come to you in a moment.”
Dracia walked through the room, looking for Roderick when she was met by her father.
“Dearest, I have been meaning to speak with you all night,” said her father as he took her hand and kissed it.
“I believe I am about to leave in a moment, father, but I can take a few minutes and speak with you,” said Dracia as her father let go of her hand.
“No, it would be better if we spoke in private. Can you come to the manor in a few days, whenever is convenient for you? I have no plans within the next week and should be home.”
“Yes, I believe I can. I will send a message before I come,” said Dracia, wondering if perhaps her father had been contacted about the uprising in the kingdom again.
Her father nodded. “I will see you soon, stay safe, Dracia.” He walked away from her, and she watched him go for a moment before spotting Roderick who seemed to be looking for her.
“I believe it is time to head back to the Fortress,” said Dracia. “Can you let the novices know?”
“Of course,” said Roderick as Lexine walked up to them.
“Dracia, I have something I need your opinion on in my rooms. Do you think you could walk with me before you leave?”
Dracia turned to Roderick. “Would you mind going ahead and making sure everyone gets back? I will be along a little later.”
Roderick gave her a half, knowing smile. “I don’t see it being a problem, though I hope you will take care coming back by yourself.”
“I’m sure all will be well,” said Dracia as she turned to Lexine. “I will be happy to give my opinion on whatever you need.”
Lexine took Dracia’s arm and linked it with her own. “Good night, Roderick. Tell you brother since we don’t have class tomorrow, I would like to meet him by the pond to speak about our project. I will be there after lunch during his normal break from the Disciplines.”
Dracia looked at Roderick. Poor man, having to complete tasks and pass messages for young lovers. Dracia wondered if he had ever had anyone special. Surely, she would know about it if he had. She wondered if he had any ideas to marry one day. He had much to recommend him as a husband, being both wonderful and handsome, but the life of an Elite of the Sentinel did not usually leave much time for romantic aspirations.
“Come along, Dracia,” said Lexine, pulling her towards the exit. Dracia stopped for a moment and took her arm away from Lexine.
“Good night, Roderick,” said Dracia taking his hand. “Thank you for all you do.”
Roderick smiled at her and squeezed her hand. “I am happy to serve you and the kingdom in any way I can.”
“I hope you will meet me in the morning by the stables for our usual morning ride,” said Dracia. She let go of Roderick’s hand and again took Lexine’s arm.
“If you think you will not be too tired from tonight’s activities, I will see you there,” said Roderick.
Lexine gave a small laugh as she pulled Dracia towards the door. They chatted back and forth as they walked through the entrance hall and up the stairs. At the second floor landing, they both looked up and down the halls to find them deserted.
“You better go before people start flooding the entrance hall,” said Lexine letting go of Dracia’s arm.
Dracia nodded. “Goodnight, Lex, thank you for your help.”
“I’m sure you can find a way to thank me soon,” said Lexine as she walked towards the stairs and up to her own rooms.
Dracia was sure Lexine would let her know of how to thank her very soon. She turned and quickly walked to Leal’s door. She knocked, and the door was promptly opened by Malven. He stepped aside to let her in, shutting the door behind her.
“Good evening, High Captain,” said Malven cheerfully. “Can I get you anything while you wait for the prince?”
“No, I am very well, Malven,” said Dracia as she walked over to the sofa and sat down. “How are you this evening?”
“Oh, I am well. I heard more interesting conversations and observed more things that I thought I would for a simple low festival.”
“Really?” asked Dracia as she poured a glass of wine. “Anything you would like to share?”
Malven smiled. “Lady Nest seemed to have disappeared for a time, and I couldn’t help but notice Lord Astor seemed to be missing at the same time.”
“Lord Nest didn’t notice his wife was missing?” asked Dracia as she took a sip of wine.
“No, he was too busy speaking of his son’s intended coming to visit with her family. Some lord’s daughter from Northonton. I believe the mother is from Navalia.”
“Navalia,” said Dracia with a sigh. “Will you be traveling with the prince when we go?”
“Yes, of course,” said Malven. “Where he goes so do I, though I don’t look forward to it.”
“I don’t either, Malven,” said Dracia taking another drink.
“Have you had any attacks recently?” asked Malven.
“Yes, more than I will admit to your prince. Most of them are small and over quickly. I hardly seem to notice them at times. I suppose Princess Lilith just wants to remind me of her connection. Last night was the worst one I’ve had in a while. I guess she was feeling particularly bored or angry at the time.”
“I have been trying to assist the prince in finding a way to help you, High Captain,” said Malven. “I believe you have another who is joining the cause as well. At least that is what I overheard tonight.”
“Who?” asked Dracia. “Barely anyone knows about this beyond you, Leal, Roderick, and Lexine.” Dracia put down her glass. “Lexine told Galen Ellis tonight, didn’t she?”
Malven nodded. “The young man said immediately he would start looking for ways to help you.”
“Galen has enough on his plate without adding my worries. I will have to speak with him, and let him know he does not need to do this.”
“He is very fond of the princess, and she is very worried for you,” said Malven.
“Even so, I will not have Galen run himself ragged over me,” said Dracia. “I hope the prince doesn’t have you working too hard over this as well. I would like you to be careful. I would hate if the wrong person learned you were messing in the affairs of the Navalians. I don’t want anything to happen to you, Malven.”
Malven again smiled at Dracia. “You are kind to worry about me, but I am very clever, you know. I can keep a very low profile when I want. I will not stand by and do nothing if there is a way to help you and the prince.
“You are very loyal and dedicated,” said Dracia.
“Yes, to my prince and you as well, High Captain.”
The door opened, and Leal walked into the room. He looked at Dracia and smiled before turning to Malven.
“Thank you for entertaining the High Captain for me, Malven, because I have no doubt she was entertained.”
“I was,” said Dracia standing up. She walked over to Malven and took his hand. “I appreciate all you do for the prince and me, Malven. I do hope you take care of yourself.”
Malven bowed down and kissed Dracia’s hand. “I can think of no better person to serve than you.”
“I believe you serve me, Malven,” said Prince Leal with a small laugh.
“I serve you as well, your highness, and I proudly do it,” replied Malven as he walked towards the door. “Do either of you need anything before I leave?”
“No, go on to bed, Malven, or go do whatever it is you do at night. We will not require your services at any point. I will see you around breakfast time, though don’t make it too early.”
“Of course not, your highness. Good night, High Captain.”
“Good night, Malven,” said Dracia as Malven opened the door and left, closing it behind him.
“I think Malven might be half in love with you, Dracia,” said Leal with a smile. “If you asked him to come serve at the Sentinel, I believe he would leave immediately.”
“Oh, you know how dedicated he is to you, Leal. Besides, I would like him to stay here, as one day I hope to move in here permanently.”
“Hopefully, very soon,” said Leal as he took Dracia’s hands and brought her close to him.
“A small part of me still thinks this is rather wrong, me being with you like this. All night I could hear the chatter of your upcoming marriage to Princess Lilith,” said Dracia as Leal brought his hand up to her cheek.
“No, this is not wrong, you can’t really think it,” said Leal as she stroked her cheek. “It doesn’t feel wrong, does it?”
“No,” said Dracia as she put her hands on his chest. “Nothing feels so right as being here with you, not performing Mystics, not fighting for my kingdom, not even being the High Captain of the Sentinel. If you would like me to be poetic, I would say not even breathing feels so right as being in your arms.”
“You, being poetic?” asked Leal quietly as he brushed her lips with his own. “You must feel strongly about this.”
“I do. Even though I know what I would be called if anyone found me in here, I know the truth, and the truth is there is nowhere else I should truly be.”
“There is one place you should be instead of right here, my love,” said Leal.
“Where is that?” asked Dracia.
“I will show you,” said Leal as he picked her up and carried her to the bed.
Late that night, Dracia woke up from a deep sleep. She pulled the blanket up as high as it would go, feeling herself shiver, even though she was wearing the heavy nightgown that had been left for her in Leal’s room. She looked across the room and saw that the fire was burning high in the fireplace. She took a breath and could see a fine mist come out of her mouth. She closed her eyes and shook her head. Would Lilith never leave her alone, at least for one day?
Dracia’s head started to spin, and she felt herself grow even colder. Was Lilith actually going to kill her this time? Surely not, she must know to get Leal to Navalia, she would have to let Dracia live. Still, as her head spun and her body grew colder, Dracia began to wonder when this attack would end.
She felt Leal move beside her. He grabbed her and brought her into his arms, rolling her over to face him. His eyes, a bright green, seem to glow in the darkness of the room that was lit only by the fire and the light of the moon coming through the window.
He held her tight to him and kissed her forehead before looking down into her eyes. He started speaking in a language she recognized as the strange tongue she had heard from him before. She knew it was the ancient language of the Cassendars. She closed her eyes and felt her warmth slowly return to her as she felt something cover her besides the pressure of Leal’s arms.
She closed her eyes as he continued to hold her and speak, and she realized she could understand the words he was chanting. She fell asleep hearing him whisper the words over and over.
Begone what does not belong, leave what is mine. I return what has been given, a power that is malign. Wrath returned for wrath for release, return once again a lover’s peace.