Roderick sat on his horse Magni, looking out over the large field in front of the Fortress. The open space was full of novices with their swords out as they sat atop horses. Roderick watched as pairs of novices rode their horses towards one another, their swords meeting as they tried to unseat each other.
He saw his brother, Galen, trading blows with his friend Tomas. Their horses circled around one another as Galen struck out at Tomas, Tomas blocking the blow and backing his horse up. Galen moved his horse towards Tomas as Tomas turned and struck out at Galen. Galen had been ready, moving his sword around to block Tomas’s dull blade. Galen backed up his horse slightly and moved in a circle around Tomas and his horse, expertly handling his steed to quickly move to Tomas’s other side.
Galen moved his sword quickly towards Tomas, giving Tomas little time to react. Tomas just managed to block the strike, but he looked unbalance. Galen drew back his sword and struck again, pushing forward as Tomas met Galen’s blade with his own. Tomas tried to steady himself in the saddle, but he had over corrected. Roderick watched as he slipped from the saddle and onto the ground. Galen sheathed his sword and reached to grab Tomas’s horse’s bridle, guiding the animal away from Tomas as he sat on the ground.
Roderick watched Tomas stand up and brush himself off before he turned to Dracia who was atop her own horse as she watched the twenty-six novices who still remained from the original one hundred that had started the Disciplines.
“How are you feeling about the crop of novices we have left?” asked Dracia as she turned to look at Roderick. She gave a slight yawn with her question.
Roderick studied Dracia for a moment. Something about her was not quite right. When he imagined Dracia in his mind, he saw her as one who was the picture of health. Her skin always seemed sun kissed and her eyes bright. Today she looked paler than usual, and her eyes dull with dark circles underneath. She wasn’t holding herself as straight as she usually did her in saddle.
“Are you alright, Dracia?” asked Roderick quietly.
She gave him a small smile. “I am feeling a little more tired than usual. Some things have kept me up at night recently, nothing too bad. I can handle it, but it is just enough to make sure I wake up a few times from my sleep. That combined with worries about the kingdom and Leal have not been a good recipe for a peaceful night of rest.”
“Have you heard anything about the supposed uprising, or who sent all those soldiers?” asked Roderick.
“No,” answered Dracia shaking her head. “I plan to go meet with my father in a bit. He has been wanting to speak with me. I am hoping he has heard something. If he hasn’t, I might ride out in a few days and see what I can for myself. I know we have some scouts out in the kingdom, but we haven’t heard much from them in a couple of weeks. I would like to check in with them myself, and also see what I might find.”
“Are you sure you riding out right now is a good idea?” asked Roderick with concern.
He didn’t like the idea of her being out away from Winsdell and the Fortress. Ever since Lord Ethen had mentioned that the knife that struck her during the battle seemed to have been met just for her, Roderick had worried someone might try to harm his High Captain again. If she was out in the kingdom, it would give someone a good opportunity to try and do away with her. She also could be attacked any time from the Navalians. What if she was facing an enemy and experienced a harsh attack from Princess Lilith?
“I will have to do something soon before we leave for Navalia. I don’t like leaving the Fortress or Winsdell behind, not knowing who is threatening the kingdom,” said Dracia. “I will be careful, and you will come with me. We shouldn’t run into many, if any problems, and we won’t be gone long.”
Roderick still didn’t like the idea, but he nodded at Dracia and asked a new question. “Who will you leave in charge of the Fortress when we go to Navalia, Darron?”
“No,” said Dracia with a loud sigh. “I will take Darron with us. I don’t trust him in charge for so long. He is also my other second, and we need to show strength when we travel to Navalia. I will leave the council of Upper Elites in charge. They can continue the Disciplines with the novices, except for Galen. He will come with us.”
“Will he?” asked Roderick somewhat surprised.
“Yes, I want to continue my lessons with your brother as we travel and visit Navalia. He has also proved his worth as a healer. I am sure we will travel with some healer from the Academy, maybe even Sarin himself, if the king can manage it, but having Galen around is still useful. It will also be his final test before his oath.”
“You are sure he is ready?” asked Roderick.
“In almost every way I am sure he is ready, but one,” said Dracia as she looked over in Galen’s direction as he fought against Novice Cara. “Part of the test will include him spending time with someone I think could make him rethink his commitment to the Sentinel.”
“Ah,” said Roderick, understanding her meaning. “I suppose he and the princess have grown very close.”
Dracia nodded. “You know I cannot tell you of the princess’s feelings or conversations she has with me, but I believe you should speak with your brother about it, let him know he has your support either way.”
“I will speak with him if you think I should. I hope he knows by now that he always has my support, but I am not sure how helpful I would be on certain subjects,” said Roderick.
“I think you would be more helpful than you know. There are several times you have been a great comfort to me in my own trials of the heart.”
“I don’t know why,” said Roderick truthfully. “I don’t remember saying anything particularly helpful or wise to you.”
“Just being there, and knowing I could depend on you was enough, Roderick,” said Dracia fondly. “I am sure it will be the same for Galen.”
“I will speak to him soon,” said Roderick
“Good,” said Dracia. “I would like you to answer my original question and give me your opinion on our remaining novices, but I need to go meet with my father. I hope you don’t mind seeing over the rest of the afternoon. I will be back in time for dinner.”
“I will do whatever you ask, and you know it, Captain,” said Roderick with a smile.
“I do, Roderick. I don’t think I tell you enough how much your dedication and support means to me.”
“You do not need to tell me,” said Roderick. “You have done more for me than I ever could for you. Go, speak with your father. I am interested in hearing what he has to say.”
“So am I. I will back soon,” said Dracia before urging her horse along, trotting away towards the wooded area that led to the center of the village.”
Roderick watched her go, continuing to worry for her safety. Once she had entered the trees and was out of sight, he turned his eyes back to watch the novices spar with one another while on horseback. Darron, who had been one of the Elites overseeing the activity, looked at Roderick before urging his horse forward and coming up to Roderick’s side.
“I see the High Captain left a moment ago,” said Darron as Roderick kept his eyes on the novices in front of him.
“Yes, she had a meeting in the village before dinner. She will not be gone long,” said Roderick.
“Is it me or does the High Captain look off? There is something in her looks that worries me,” said Darron.
Roderick turned to look at Darron with a mild look of surprise.
“You do not need to look so. She is my High Captain, and I serve as her second as you do. I care about her well-being. Now, is she ill, or is she still suffering from her injuries she sustained this summer?”
“I am surprised you seem to care at all. It feels lately that all you wish to do is aggravate her and undermine her in every way.”
“I am sorry it seems that way. I do serve her, but above all I serve the Sentinel and the kingdom. I will question her ways when I feel it is necessary,” said Darron.
“She wants what is best for the Sentinel and the kingdom more than anyone.”
“She might,” said Darron slowly. “But that doesn’t mean she knows what is right for the kingdom or the Sentinel, or that she does what is best for either of them.”
“How can you even question her seeing how she has served as High Captain this past year and half? She led us to victory over the largest invasion this village as seen in years. She has won countless battles, sometimes almost entirely by herself.”
“I am not questioning her skills. I know she is a very gifted Elite, and a fierce warrior, but I am merely wondering if she has what it takes to be High Captain and sustain the position for many years. You have to admit, she does look worn down lately.”
“She has many pressures on her shoulders, Darron,” said Roderick. “Pressures that you and I are supposed to help her with, yet all I see you do is add to her worries.”
“Maybe you should check your loyalties, Roderick. You do serve her, but you also serve a higher purpose. Don’t let your love for the High Captain blind you to what is best for the kingdom.”
Roderick gave an angry breath, but he did not respond. He held the reins in his hand tight as Magni moved restlessly underneath him, feeding off his agitated state.
“I do see how you watch her, you know,” said Darron quietly. “I have always seen how you look at her, ever since you came here as a novice. I don’t blame you. She is beautiful and spirited. I admit I have imagined her in all sorts of tantalizing ways.”
“You should stop talking now, Darron,” said Roderick furiously. “I have nothing but respect and devotion for her as my High Captain. You should not talk about her in a such a way.”
“Her being the High Captain does not change the fact she is a tempting, passionate young woman,” said Darron. “Perhaps, there is a reason a woman has never been High Captain before. Besides being distracting to all of us, she cannot possibly have the stamina of a man.”
“She has served her position thus far as well if not better than the High Captains that have come before her. She will continue to do so. Whatever else you have to say about the matter, I don’t want to hear it,” said Roderick. He looked at Darron with a deadly stare. “If I ever hear one word of you trying to do anything to hurt her, or weaken her reputation in front of anyone in the Sentinel, I will call you out in a second. I will not even hesitate to put a permanent end to you if I must.”
Darron gave a short laugh. “You think too much of your own skills.”
“No,” said Roderick. “That is your vice, not mine. I know exactly what I am capable of, and if you continue to be a threat to the High Captain, you will find out as well.”
“Whoever said I was a threat?” asked Darron. “I will continue to serve as her second with the best interest of the Sentinel and the kingdom in mind. You seem to think she and I have the same interests, so there should be no problem.”
Roderick was done with this conversation. He had said his piece, and Darron had said enough to make Roderick even more warry of his fellow second. “I have no doubt the High Captain wants what is best for the kingdom and the Sentinel. What you really want I cannot say. What I can say is, I will hear no more talk like you have dared to speak today, not to me or anyone else.”
“You always have taken things too seriously, Roderick,” said Darron as he turned away and looked at the novices.
“And you have never taken things seriously enough.”
“You might be right about that, but I have changed lately. There are some things I plan to take very seriously including my own future and the future of this kingdom,” said Darron. He looked at Roderick one more time before urging his horse to move forward and walk away from Roderick.
Roderick closed his eyes for one moment, trying to calm his breathing and ease the tension he felt in his muscles. He opened his eyes and stroked Magni’s neck to soothe the animal. Roderick had never trusted Darron, and now he felt like Darron had leveled some sort of challenged at him and the High Captain. Roderick knew he needed to speak with Dracia about Darron. There had to be something they could do about him. It would be difficult to do away with him in the Sentinel completely as he had some support from a few of the Upper Elites.
Dracia had always kept Darron as her second to keep an eye on him, but the time may have come to separate completely. There was one way she could permanently rid herself of Darron, but it would take an act by Darron for it to happen. He would have to challenge her leadership and her position. While Roderick had no doubts Dracia could beat Darron in a fair fight when she was healthy, he worried what would happen now when she was suffering attacks from the Navalians. He also didn’t trust Darron to fight fairly.
Roderick watched Darron as he rode around the novices, shouting instructions and suggestions to the ones sparring. Roderick had been worried about outside threats to his High Captain, but maybe he should have been more worried about the threats within.