Leal looked all around. How did they get there? A moment ago, he was in the waning daylight, surrounded by piles of snow and people fighting, now he stood in the darkness with hard stone under his feet. All around him the Elites lit fires in their hands, causing the darkness to come aglow in a strange yellow light. He looked to his right to see his sister looking just as shocked as he was. He looked to his left to see his father looking around in curiosity.
“Where are we, Leal?” asked the king.
Leal shrugged as he became aware of something appearing to his left. He looked over to see Dracia and Galen Ellis on the ground. His eyes followed Dracia as she rolled a few times, coming to stop on her back. He yelled her name the same time as Roderick as Lexine yelled for Galen.
Leal ran over to Dracia, meeting Roderick by her side. Leal kneeled down and picked up Dracia carefully, moving one hand down to her side, feeling a warm wetness. He lifted his hand to see it covered in blood. He turned to Roderick who looked horrified.
“Galen,” said Roderick, looking over at his brother. “Are you well?”
Galen was sitting up with Lexine by his side. He nodded with his eyes closed. “You need to come see to the High Captain if you can,” said Roderick.
Galen opened his eyes, and stood up with the help of Lexine. As they walked over, Leal looked down at Dracia. Her eyes were closed, and she was limp in his arms, but he could see she was breathing as he saw her chest rise slightly and then go down. Galen knelt down in front next to Dracia with Lexine next to him.
“I thinks she was injured badly on her left side,” said Roderick.
Galen looked over Dracia and then put his hand gently over where she bled. He looked down and tore her dress slightly where she had been cut, so he could see the wound. His hand hovered over her cut, which Leal could now see was bleeding freely.
“No,” whispered Dracia as she slightly opened her eyes. “Galen, you cannot. You will be too weak after the snow.”
“I can do this, Captain,” said Galen softly. “I will have to; it cannot wait.”
“I will help him, Dracia,” said Lexine. “Do not worry.”
Dracia’s eyes closed and she once again when limp in Leal’s arms.
“We must hurry, Galen,” said Lexine urgently. “She is losing too much blood.”
Galen nodded and put his hand back over Dracia’s injury. Lexine put her hands over Galen’s and together they moved slowly, hovering over the deep gash on Dracia’s side. Leal watched as he could see the gash come together, leaving a slightly red line behind.”
Galen and Lexine put their hands down; Galen leaning heavily against Lexine as she put her arm around him.
“Galen, are you alright?” asked Lexine as she looked at him.
“I am,” he said with his eyes closed. “Just give me a minute.”
Leal looked down at Dracia to see her eyes were still closed, and she was not moving.
“Lexine,” asked Leal fearfully. “Will she be well?”
Lexine moved Galen over a bit and put her hand on Dracia’s stomach as she closed her eyes. “She is very weak. I think she has lost a lot of blood.”
“She has used too much energy bringing us down here,” said Galen quietly as he placed his hand over Lexine’s.
“Will she live?” asked Roderick.
Galen opened his eyes and looked at his brother. “I don’t know. I’m sorry, Roderick, but I can’t tell.”
Roderick looked at Leal. Leal shook his head. “Of course, she will live. There is no one stronger than her. You know this, Roderick.”
“He is right,” said Ethen. Leal looked behind him to see Ethen and Maia standing over him. “She is very strong. She will be well in time. She just needs to rest. Unfortunately, we cannot stay here long. We must be moving soon.”
“Where do we go?” asked Roderick as he stood up and looked around.
“We will follow this tunnel. I believe it goes through the mountains and loops around to the northern sea. We can find a ship to take us to Siccaria. We can travel right to the harbor of the crimson sea which will lead to Radarial and my home.
“You will lead us then, Ethen,” said Leal as he lay Dracia down gently and stood up.
Leal looked around at the horses with them. The Elites looked like they each still had their horses. The Yates had one horse between them. Leal saw his own stallion standing close to the horse Malven had been riding earlier, and Dracia’s great big beast stood close by. It seemed Lexine and his father’s horses had been lost.
“Lexine you will have to ride with Galen. I think he could use your support for a while anyway. Father, you can ride my horse, and I will ride Dracia’s.”
“Are you sure you are strong enough, your highness?” asked Roderick. “Aarit is not any easy horse to control. He usually only lets Dracia ride him.”
“I am feeling much better, Roderick. My head is much clearer, and I think Aarit will let me ride him as I will be joined by his mistress.”
Roderick nodded as Leal approached Dracia’s huge horse. “I am not sure you are fond of me at all, you brute, but you will have to deal with me, if you want to see her safe,” said Leal as patted Aarit’s nose.
Aarit shifted a little as though trying to look past Leal to Dracia who lay on the ground. Leal walked around and put his foot in the stirrups, pulling himself up on the large back of the horse. “Roderick, pick her up carefully and bring her here,” said Leal looking down at Roderick.
Roderick did as he asked, carefully picking up Dracia and bringing her over to him. Leal leaned down and took her, placing her in front of him, cradling her in one of his arms as he used his other to grab the reins. Dracia moved and half opened her eyes, looking up at Leal. He smiled down at her as she seemed to try to talk.
“It is alright, my love,” he said quietly. “You have done your part, now let us get you to safety.” Leal leaned down and kissed her forehead as she closed her eyes and turned her head towards his chest.
Everyone around them mounted their horses, and Leal moved Aarit to follow Ethen and Maia who led the group. The moved forward slowly through the tunnel, Maia holding a hand full of fire as they rode to light the way.
“Leal, will she be well?” asked the king as he rode up next to Leal.
Leal looked at his father, feeling very irritated at the man. If only he hadn’t forbidden Leal to marry Dracia. If the king hadn’t made it to where Leal had to hide his love for her, they could have avoided all of this. She would have been safe with him during the battle of Winsdell if there was one. The Navalians would never had come, and they would never have had to go to Navalia.
Leal saw nothing but a weak man as he looked at the king. He had let himself be fooled and entranced. Even before that he had tried to warn Leal away from Dracia, all because of some stupid supposed curse he thought he could understand.
“I don’t know, father, and I am surprise you care at all. You have done nothing these past years, but see her miserable, to see both of us miserable.”
“I am starting to remember a few things from the past few years. Your sister has spoken to me of what has happened. Lexine told me you are married, and have been for some time. I never meant to hurt you or her. When you first approached me of marrying her, you were both young. I wanted to make sure this was right for you, her, and the kingdom.”
“I knew I wanted her always for so long, but you wouldn’t listen. Now, look where we are. Our kingdom is in trouble, we are probably presumed dead, and she is barely alive. She has given everything she has for you and your kingdom.”
“I know,” said the king. “She will make you a fine queen, Leal. I wish you had not been forced to keep your marriage secret. It must have been hard to live a lie all those years.”
“Not being able to claim who she truly was to me has hurt me more than you could possibly know. She had to live as secret lover I had to sneak out and visit, instead of by my side in the palace as my wife and a princess of Lanoxan as was her right. I should never have let it be so. I didn’t do it for you. I did it because she asked me to do it. She wanted to make sure you and I were not at odds. She did it so you wouldn’t pass me over for the throne. For some reason she thinks I will make a good king.”
“You will, Leal. You will be a good king. I have always known you would be,” said his father.
“If I am a good king, it will only be because she is at my side. I am weak. father, just like you. I let that woman back there enchant me and control me just like you. If I was any stronger, I would tell Dracia to let me go and find someone who deserves her, but I am too weak to be without her. If she lives through this, I will find a way to be better for her. I will find a way to be able to deserve her in some small way.”
“She will live, Leal, and you two shall reign over our kingdom starting now. You are right, I am weak. I have made awful mistakes. I abandon your mother and broke my promises to her many times. I cannot be the king Lanoxan needs. I will see it proclaimed as soon as I can that I am giving you the throne, but as far as I am concerned you are now the king,” said his father.
“Do you really mean it?” asked Leal looking over at his father.
“Yes, I have already told Lexine I had planned to do it, and she agreed it was the right thing to do.”
Leal nodded. “Very well, I will serve the kingdom as best I can, and try to bring some credit back to the Cassendar name.” Leal leaned down and whispered to Dracia. “You have to get better, dearest. How am I to rule a kingdom without you? I can only be king with you by my side. You may not want to admit it to me, but I know you know it is true.”
The rode on through the dark tunnel for hours before Ethen stopped them to rest. They had a little water and food with them that they passed amongst everyone. Dracia still had not awakened. Her father and mother checked on her, her father seemingly devastated with worry, as Lady Owena tried to reassure him.
“Calm down, dear. You know your daughter has been through worse than this. She will rest and come out on the other side. She is very stubborn and strong, a trait she must get from her mother.”
Lord Arwel nodded and smiled slightly. He let his wife lead him away.
As they all found places to rest for the night, Leal carried her over to the wall and laid her down. Malven checked on them both, asking Leal if he could do anything for them. Leal shooed him away to get some rest before Leal laid next to Dracia and pulled her onto him, so she could lay on him, instead of the hard ground.
He didn’t sleep much as he watched her through the few hours they stopped. His eyes finally became too heavy towards the end of their break, and he gave up the fight, letting himself sleep. He awoke to the sounds of others shuffling around him. Opening his eyes, he looked to Dracia to see her slightly stirring next to him.
“Leal,” she said softly as her eyes opened. “Where are we?”
Leal smiled at her. beyond happy to see her awake. “When are still in the tunnels you sent us to, on our way to the sea to find a boat.”
“You will hate that,” she said in raspy voice. “You don’t like to sail.”
“It makes me sick,” he said as he sat up. He pulled her up with him, and she sat beside him, her head laying on his shoulder.
“You are awake,” said Lord Ethen coming over to him with Maia who was holding a small flame in her hand. “You should drink something while you can.” He held out a small waterskin to her, and she took it with a shaky hand. Leal helped her to drink from it before she laid her head back on his shoulder and closed her eyes again.
They rode on through the tunnel, as Leal still held Dracia. She had not really awoken again since before they left after the break, but she seemed more restless, moving more, and making noises, giving Leal hope she would pull through. After stopping for one more quick rest, Leal wondered if they would ever see the light of day again. As he handed Dracia down to Roderick, she opened her eyes and looked at Roderick before turning to look at Leal still on Aarit.”
“Roderick,” she said shaking her head. “You let Leal ride my horse? You aren’t trying to kill him, are you?”
Roderick laughed a little, smiling at her. “No, I can assure you, I warned your husband of the dangers of riding your great beast, but it seems he is almost as stubborn as you.” He sat her on her feet carefully as Leal hopped down off of her horse.
“Your horse and I are becoming great friends, my dear,” said Leal as he put his arm around her. “I might have to take him from you, as he seems to be built for a king.”
Aarit turned and looked at Leal giving a great snort as if to disagree.
“I was only joking, you brute,” said Leal as they walked over to join the others.
“How much longer is it do you think, Ethen?” asked Leal as he rode up close to him. They had left hours ago after taking a few hour break. Dracia was again asleep against him, but she seemed to be getting stronger as they rode on.
“I don’t have a way of knowing,” said Ethen.
“We are close,” said Dracia as she stirred against Leal. “I can sense the end of the stone coming up.”
She was right. After another ten minutes, Leal could see a bright light up ahead. They soon emerged out into a sunny cold day along the rocky shore of the northern sea. Leal held Dracia tighter as a wind blew from across the water, coating them all in a freezing mist. The rode all together, following the sea to a small costal town Ethen knew of. It was at the north of the kingdom of Navalia far away from Port Venala if one traveled the treacherous mountain roads. Still, Ethen thought it best if only he and Maia rode into the town to see about passage to Siccaria.
Before leaving the group, Ethen and Maia helped them all find a secluded area away from the coast towards the town. It was a small gathering of trees that could not be called a forest, but still provided some cover. Roderick took two Elites and waked in wide circles, watching out for anyone who might come their way. The other Elites and the king, and Dracia’s father and mother sat around an area in the middle of the trees, some of the Elites making a fire as Leal brought Dracia over to sit by it. Galen stopped over her and felt her head, as Malven handed Leal some water. Galen kneeled by Dracia and pulled back her cloak, looking at where the gash was on her side.
“Lord Ethen, I wonder if I may ride with you into town,” said Galen as he stood up. “I need to get a few things from an apothecary if I can. I am afraid the High Captain’s wound might have gotten infected. There are also a few things I would like to bring with us on the boat.”
Leal looked at Galen with concern. “Do you think she is very unwell?”
“No, not at this point. I can stop the infection with the right medicine. Lexine, while I am gone see if you can draw some of it out.”
Lexine nodded. “Do not worry, Leal, this is quite common. I am sure she will be fine.”
Ethen agreed to let Galen come with them as Lexine sat down next to Dracia, working on her wound as Dracia sat back and closed her eyes. After Lexine was done, Leal sat by Dracia and tried to get her to eat. She refused, and instead put her head on Leal’s shoulder and seem to drift off.
“I saw that father talked to you earlier,” said Lexine. “Did he tell you he planned to step down?”
“Yes,” said Leal. “He said he would make a proclamation when he could, but he already considered me to be the king of Lanoxan.”
“It is right,” said Lexine. “He needs to step down, and you and Dracia need to lead. He is trying to make things right, Leal.”
“I don’t know if he can do anything to make things right with me, but right now all of this means nothing to me until I know Dracia is truly well.”
“She will be, it will just take time. Soon we will be somewhere she can truly rest and recuperate,” said Lexine.
“But this will not be the end of it. You know we will have to fight the Navalians for our kingdom. I don’t know what is truly going on, but I doubt anything can be settled without a vicious war. You know she won’t stand idly by. You know she will fight.”
“She will, and she should. She is not only still the High Captain of the Sentinel, but she is now the queen as well. She should fight for our people. So, should we Leal,” said Lexine. “The Cassendars have hid too long behind the Sentinel, as we sat on our powers. They were given to us to defend our people, but instead we have hidden behind our walls as our people suffered generation after generation. I don’t know if I believe in this curse father speaks of or not, but we might deserve to be cursed. We might deserve to lose our kingdom.”
“You are right, Lexine. Our family has become nothing but rulers who enjoy all the benefits of being royalty, but none of the responsibility. We can change it though. You, and I, and Dracia. We can fight for our people. Maybe we are cursed in some way, Lexine, but that doesn’t mean we can’t change our fate.”
“We can, and we will,” said Lexine. “You will lead us, Leal. Dracia has always believed in you, and I do as well. You are my brother and king, and I will support you no matter what we face.”
“Thank you, sister,” said Leal smiling at her. “I will support you as well, with whatever or whoever you choose, though if it isn’t Galen Ellis at this point, I will be disappointed.”
“It will be Galen, Leal, you don’t need to worry about it. I love him.”
Ethen, Maia, and Galen came back after some time. Galen came over to take care of Dracia as Ethen motioned for Leal to come speak with him. Leaving Dracia in the care of Lexine and Galen and her father who had come to check on her, Leal got up and walked to Ethen.
“I have found us a Siccarian ship. It sails tonight to Radarial and can get us there in less than four days. It is not luxurious, but there are some cabins available, so those who need rest can get it.”
Leal nodded, dreading almost four days out at sea, but at least Dracia would have some sort of bed to rest in.
“I heard some other news from the village as well. It seems messages have been sent all over the kingdom by bird and messenger,” said Ethen. “King Arnar is dead.”
“What?” asked Leal with surprise. “Dead?”
“Yes, it is said he was killed by the High Captain of the Sentinel, and now King Fannar reigns over Navalia,” said Ethen.
“Do you think it is true that Dracia killed the king?” asked Leal.
“More than likely. She had to escape somehow from the palace. The message also says the High Captain has perished with the royal family of Cassendar, leaving no heirs to the throne of the High Palace. Maya and I are also presumed dead.”
“So, we are all dead,” said Leal.
“For the time being. They will look for our bodies eventually, and when they do not find them, they will know we have escaped. I don’t know if the Navalians will let people know, but they will know we are still a threat somewhere in the land.”
“What do you think we should do?”
“We should go to Siccaria and let everyone recover and rest. We will meet with my father, grandmother, and the other nobles of Siccaria and come up with a plan as we watch what Navalia does. It will probably be bad for your kingdom for a while, but I don’t think there is anything we can do at this point. We will have to watch and see,” said Ethen.
“I hate to think of any of our people suffering, but you are right. We are in no condition to do anything right now,” said Leal.
He walked back over to find Dracia had woken up and was sitting by Roderick as they talked.
“I put something on her wound, and gave her some medicine that should help with her fever and infection. Lexine did well to draw most of it out, so I don’t think it will be a problem, but it might leave her weak and tired for a while. That and all the energy she used to save us all.”
“And you, Galen? Are you well?” asked Leal.
“I am still a little drained, but one good night’s sleep will see me put to right,” said Galen as he stretched.
“Then we will be sure you have a bed on the ship tonight,” said Leal. Seeing Galen was going to argue, Leal spoke again. “We will need you well, Galen. You have skills we need if we are going to make the rest of this trip and the war to come. I am practically your king now, and you will do as I command. Find a bed and sleep well tonight.”
Galen nodded before walking towards Lexine. They spent the rest of the time, talking quietly and eating what little food they had left over. Leal was pleased to see Dracia eat a little food as she sat against him, watching the fire before them. When it was close to time to boarding the ship, they rode the horses to the docks, following Ethen to a man who stood in front of a large ship. He was right it was not fancy, but it looked big enough to hold them all, and their horses.
Leal saw Dracia settled into a small bed in a cabin below the deck. She seemed relieved to be able to rest as she undid her braids before laying down. Leal saw her settled into the bed, before laying down next to her over the covers, careful to not jostle her too much.
“You should go upstairs. You know you will be sick as a dog staying down here with me,” said Dracia as she closed her eyes.
“I will see you asleep before I leave you. Besides, I will have to get used to the rocking at some point, or I will have to sleep in the cold air of the deck for three nights.”
Dracia smiled and turned towards him leaning her forehead against his. “I did something rather awful back in Navalia,” said Dracia quietly. “I didn’t mean for it to happen, not really.”
“So, you did kill King Arnar,” said Leal.
“How did you know?” she asked looking at him through half opened eyes.
“The Navalians have already spread the news of the king’s death all over this kingdom and probably ours as well. They are saying all of us are dead too.”
“I didn’t want to kill him, but he was holding me so tight. I couldn’t breathe and then Fannar was coming at me with a sword. I just meant to stab him in his side so he would let me go. I didn’t mean to hurt him so badly, he would die. The poor man didn’t even know what he was doing,” said Dracia with anguish.
“It isn’t your fault, Dracia. You only did what you had to do to survive. King Arnar may not have been completely evil, but he still did some bad things. He invaded other kingdoms.”
“And how much of that was his idea? How long has he and even Fannar been under the control of Lady Belleth?”
“Then it is all her fault and not yours. You will not blame yourself over this. King Arnar is dead, but his death should be on Belleth’s conscious, not yours,” said Leal as he leaned up and kissed her forehead.
“Lady Belleth has no conscious,” said Dracia as tears came out of her eyes. “I don’t know who or what she is, but she is so powerful and wicked.”
“You shouldn’t think of such things now. You need to rest. When you are feeling better, we will discuss this and find a way forward. I will be by your side from here on out. The Cassendars cannot hide behind walls and warriors anymore. When it comes time to fight for our kingdom, I will be with you leading our people.”
Dracia sighed as she fell asleep. Leal held her as tight as he dared without hurting her, thinking he would not be parted from her ever again. He would do everything he could in Siccaria to make sure he was worthy of fighting at her side when the time came.