The Sentinel of Cassendar: Navalia

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Chapter 5

Dracia left her horse with one of her father’s attendants who met her as she rode up the front path to the large manor house. It was a handsome house built of stone, three stories tall. There were many large windows all along the front, and large portico over the front door. Dracia looked up at the house before she entered, feeling a mixture of emotions.

She had many happy memories of growing up there, running through the halls, sometimes with her older brothers. She remembered parties out on the back lawn when she and Leal would sneak off as children to hide and play as great warriors in the trees that grew behind the manor. She recalled times when she would sneak into her father’s study, and he would stop working to read her stories of Lanoxan and other kingdoms. She always particularly like the stories of strong women warriors like those found in the small southern kingdom of Indomia or even Siccaria.

Dracia also remembered times with her mother. She remembered her mother fretting over Dracia’s tan skin after she had been outside all day. Dracia could never forget her mother worrying she was growing too tall, half-jokingly commenting they should put a heavy book on Dracia’s head all day to stop her height. She remembered her mother drilling her on proper court etiquette and speaking harshly to her or slapping her hand when Dracia would lose focus or make an error.

Dracia closed her eyes very briefly to clear her head. She looked down at her uniform and felt her resolve stiffen. She stood up straight and held her head high as she knocked on the door. She was the High Captain of the Sentinel. She had the respect of her Elites. She had led the Sentinel to their greatest victory in over 100 years. She was strong and sure of herself.

The door was opened by her father’s head attendant. He greeted her warmly, letting her into the large entry hall. He had just informed her that her father was in his study when she looked up to see her oldest brother coming down the stairs.

“Dracia, how good it is to see you,” said her brother, Colm, as he reached the entrance hall, walking quickly. He was a very handsome man with his mother’s blonde hair and green eyes. He had his father’s straight nose and strong chin, and he was tall with broad shoulders.

“You are back from your travels, brother,” said Dracia walking forward with her hand out.

“Yes, we arrived yesterday,” said Colm as he took Dracia’s hand and pressed it with his other one. “Look at you, you are quite the site in your uniform. How are things at the Sentinel?”

“Calm for the moment. It has been nice after the summer we had.”

“Yes, I heard about it,” said Colm. “Father wrote that you were injured. You are well now, aren’t you?”

Dracia hesitated for one moment before answering. “Yes, I recovered well and quickly. How was your trip? Where is Caitrin?”

“Oh, it was fine, some of it good, some of it dreadfully boring. Caitrin is upstairs with mother, seeing to the children at the moment. You should pop in and see them all.”

Dracia sighed. “I would like to say hello to your wife and children, Colm.”

He smiled slightly. “I know she can be harsh, Dracia, but she is our mother. I know she loves you.”

“I wish I was as sure as you,” said Dracia as she lowered her eyes to the floor.

“She seemed rather proud of you last night as father talked about what you did in the battle.”

“You don’t need to lie, Colm.”

“I’m not lying. She said you were a very strong warrior,” said Colm as he crossed his arms.

“Is that all she said?” asked Dracia knowing there was more.

“No, but it does not matter.”

“Let me tell you what I believe she said,” said Dracia putting on her mother’s voice and hand movements. “Dracia is a very strong warrior. That must be why the gods chose to make her so large and manlike. I suppose she has found her niche in the Sentinel, living with so many men.”

Her brother chuckled. “You do know her well, though she didn’t say that last bit.”

“She was thinking it,” said Dracia.

“Still, Caitrin and the children would be very happy to see you,” said her brother.

“I will go see them after my meeting with father. He is expecting me, so I must go. I do hope to see more of you now that you are hopefully settled in Winsdell.”

“I don’t know how settled I am, but I believe you will see me. Father wants me to travel with him when he accompanies the king to Navalia for Prince Leal’s betrothal. I take it you will be going as the High Captain,” said Colm and he and Dracia started walking towards their father’s study.

“Yes, I will go to see to the protection of the royal family. Do you plan to bring your whole family on the trip?”

“No, Caitrin doesn’t want the children traveling in the cold of winter so far north. It will be difficult being away from them all, but father says we will be back within a month no matter how long the king would like to stay.”

“Then I shall be happy to spend some time with you. Colm. I have missed you.”

“I have missed you as well, Dracia,” said Colm as they stopped in front of her father’s study door. “Come speak with me later when you have time. I have to tell you about your brother’s and his wife’s newest scheme. They are fancying themselves as actors and putting on plays with their friends in their home.”

“Sounds like Kellen, but it also sounds like he and his wife are happy and a good match.”

“They are both silly, you mean,” said Colm laughing.

“They are both free spirited and carefree. I envy them in some ways. I would like to know what it is like to not have so many cares,” said Dracia.

“You do look rather tired, sister,” said Colm. “I know you have many responsibilities, but I do hope you find time for some enjoyments.”

Dracia smiled. “There are a few things I do enjoy that I can make time for. Do not worry for me. I am satisfied with my life for the time being.”

“I will see you soon, I hope,” said her brother as Dracia knocked on the study’s door.

“You will,” said Dracia. “I understand there will be hunt for the prince’s birthday in a week. I am sure we will both be there.”

“Or course,” said her brother. “I will see you then.”

Her brother walked away as the door opened, and her father appeared in the doorway.

“Hello, my dear, please come in,” said her father, moving to the side so Dracia could enter the room.

Dracia walked into the familiar room, seeing a large fire burned in the fireplace on the far side with the sitting area. The other side held her father’s wooden desk with many shelves of books behind it. Dracia waited to see where her father would sit before she moved in either direction. Her father moved towards his desk so Dracia walked and sat in one of the chairs in front. Her father sat down behind his desk and picked up a small piece of paper that appeared to be a message.

“Is that what you wish to speak to me about?” asked Dracia pointing to the message in her father’s hand.

“Yes, it is,” said her father as his eyes skimmed over the message.

“Is it about the uprising in the kingdom?” asked Dracia sitting up in her chair and scooting forward.

“It is not,” said her father as he put the message down. “It is a letter from King Arnar of Navalia.”

Dracia sat back in her chair and took a breath, her eyebrows knitting together. “From Navalia?”

“Yes, the king has written to me of you.”

“What can he possible have to say about me?” asked Dracia.

“He starts his message with an apology to any slight his son may have unconsciously done to you. He refers to an incident that he writes was nothing but a misunderstanding.”

Dracia propped her elbow on the arm rest of the chair and rubbed her forehead with her hand.

“Do you want to tell me what incident he is referring to, Dracia?”

“I would rather not, father,” said Dracia still rubbing her forehead. “I would like to forget the whole thing.”

Dracia had long tried to forget that night of the High Summer festival when Fannar had cornered her away from everyone else. She could still feel his cold lips against her cheeks and lips as he kissed her and held her against the wall. She had felt so powerless and trapped. He had made her feel weak and helpless. She wanted to never think on it again.

“I would rather you told me what happened,” said her father.

“It will do no good to tell you. It is over and there is nothing that can be done about it. I will tell you it was not a misunderstanding, and if I had my way, I would never set my eyes on Prince Fannar again, or any of the Navalian royal family.”

“You have me very worried, Dracia,” said her father picking the message back up. “Especially since you know you will see all them quite often in the future, since our prince is marrying their princess.”

Dracia’s head started to pound. She did not want to think of Leal marrying Lilith. It made her feel cold, empty, and hopeless. She stopped rubbing her forehead and pulled her cloak tighter around her.

“I am fine, father, that is all you need to know,” said Dracia. “Does King Arnar say anything else in his letter?”

“He does,” said her father looking down at the letter. “He said he is willing to offer you amends for any wrong you believe has been done to you. He said the prince is very anxious to see you and offer his own apologies, as well as a way to make sure you are never at odds with each other again.” Her father looked up at her with raised eyebrows.

Dracia swallowed as her head spun slightly. All of this was too much. What could the prince possibly do to make amends?

“You do understand what this probably means, Dracia, don’t you?” asked her father. “I think it is very clear that the prince wants to offer you some type of position in his life. I think he may ask for your hand.”

Dracia sat back, horrified. “Surely not,” she gasped. “He could not possibly think I would be open to such a thing.”

“He will be the King of Navalia one day. He has a lot to offer, including the position of queen of his kingdom. I am not sure you should completely dismiss this.”

“I do completely dismiss it, father. You don’t know what kind of people they are. I could never be happy being married to such a man.”

“I wish you would tell me what happened between the two of you. It must have been something awful to illicit such a reaction from you.”

“I will not tell you, but you have to trust me. I do not wish to marry Fannar or take any position he would offer me.”

“I do trust you, but I wish this could work out. I would do anything to see you safe somewhere. I do not like you serving as High Captain, especially after this summer. I know you said your injuries weren’t terrible, but I am not sure I believe you. I see you now, and I can tell you are not well. If Navalia is not the place for you, why not take Siccaria’s offer and go visit with the High Nobles there. Lady Elise has told me you would always have a place with her.”

“I serve the Sentinel of my own free will. I will not leave my position or Lanoxan. I will serve my kingdom and the royal family as long as is necessary. I appreciate your concern, but I am quite able to take care of myself,” said Dracia.

“I know you are strong, you have always been strong, but I worry for you. I do not want to lose you, Dracia,” said her father as he leaned over his desk. “I do not think I could stand it, not after…”

“Not after what?” asked Dracia as she went back to messaging her head.

“Not after having to see all you have suffered under my own roof,” said Lord Arwel. “I have never protected as I should, and I cannot protect you now.”

“You could hardly keep my own mother from me,” said Dracia. “I do not need your protection now. I have made my own choices, and I stand by them. I am sorry you worry for me, but I am confident in who I am. Things are not always easy, but someone reminded me not too long ago, the things that are worthwhile are usually at the end of the hardest paths.”

“I feel like you have been climbing the most treacherous path for too long, dearest,” said her father.

“I have had it better than most,” said Dracia. “I have seen enough in the kingdom to know it.”

“I will write back to King Arnar and tell him you make your own decisions. If he or his son wishes to speak of amends or promises, they will need to contact you,” said Lord Arwel.

Dracia nodded. “I should be headed back to the Sentinel. I told Roderick I would be back for supper, and I want to stop in upstairs and see Caitrin and the children.”

Lord Arwel nodded and stood. “I am always here for you when you need me. I hope you know it.”

Dracia had her eyes closed, feeling colder by the minute. Her head was spinning, making her feel sick at her stomach.

“Dracia?” asked her father. “You do know it don’t you?”

Dracia nodded and put her hands on the arm rest of the chair. She stood up slowly, feeling her head spin wildly. The room seemed to be tilting and her father was out of focus. She tried to still her head and look at him.

“Dracia, are you alright?” her father asked with concern.

Dracia tried to say yes when she realized what was happening. She felt herself shiver uncontrollably. She needed to get out of the house before she collapsed. She needed to get back to the Fortress to her rooms, away from her father and everyone else. She took a step to the side and felt herself sway. She tried to take another and saw only darkness as she realized she was falling.

She awoke in a dark room. She felt like she was freezing though she could tell she was under many blankets. She sat up slightly, feeling her head spin, and she could see there was a fire burning somewhere in the room. Something about the bed she was in, and the smell of the room was familiar to her. It took her moment to realize she was in her old bedroom in her father’s manor.

“Dracia,” said a quiet voice as she felt someone touch her forehead. She looked up to see a man dressed as one of her father attendants. She blinked, trying to clear her vision when Leal’s face was looking over her with concern.

“My love, how do you feel?” he whispered.

“You shouldn’t be here,” said Dracia with a raw voice.

“I had to see you when I heard you were ill. I knew what had happened. I cannot stay long, though it will be hard to leave you. Your father and mother just stepped out to talk to Sarin.”

“Sarin?” asked Dracia concerned. “Will he know what is wrong with me?”

“I have already spoken with him,” said Leal. “He serves under my direction at the Royal Academy. I believe we can trust him. He might be able to help somehow, though I don’t know how good of a healer he really is.”

“What will he tell my parents?”

“That you are overworked, and ill with some sickness,” said Leal. “Do not worry. You need to rest. Let me try to help you.” Leal kept his hand on her forehead and placed his other on her stomach.

“No,” said Dracia taking his hand on her stomach. “Do not do anything. I will not see you affected as you were before. I just need rest. I am already feeling better.”

“It will not be like before. I tried to send back some of my own power to Lilith through your connection. I will not do so this time. Just let me see if I can at least help you to get warm and rest.”

Dracia nodded and let go of his hand, closing her eyes. She heard him take a few breaths before she started to feel something come over her, making her feel safe and warm. She immediately started feeling sleepy, as she tried to open her eyes.

“Rest,” said Leal quietly as he bent down and softly kissed her lips. “I have to go, but I will see you soon.”

Dracia fell asleep before he even stood up. She woke up again to find the room was full of light. She stretched in bed and looked over to see her mother sitting in a chair next to her.

“Good, you are awake,” said her mother as she put down some sewing she had been doing.

“I am,” said Dracia sitting up slowly, only feeling a slight dizziness. “How long have I been asleep.”

“It is almost the tenth bell of the morning. You were in and out a bit yesterday evening, but by nightfall you seemed to sleep easier. How do you feel?”

“Better,” said Dracia. “I will need to get back to the Fortress soon.”

“Your father sent for Sarin to come see you. Sarin says you should rest here at least until tomorrow. Your father informed your seconds at the Fortress. You have no need to hurry back.”

“I would rest easier in my own rooms, surrounded by my fellow Elites,” said Dracia as she noticed she was dressed in a nightgown. He hair had been pulled from its usual crown braid, and laid in a long braid down her shoulder.

“You should rest fine her in your father’s home, amongst those who care about you,” said her mother as she smoothed out Dracia’s blanket.

Dracia looked at her mother. Her mother next to her side, fussing with the blankets, brought back the only tender memories she had of the woman next to her. Dracia had gotten very sick when she was ten. It was hard for her to breath, and her temperature was very high. Her father brought many healers form the Academy to see to Dracia. She remembered taking many different medicines.

Finally, the healers told her parents that Dracia was very unwell and could easily die. Dracia’s mother had sat by her side the whole time, wiping her brow, giving her medicines, telling her stories, and talking to her of the future she could have. She remembered it was one of the only times, Dracia’s mother had ever kissed her. It was late at night and Dracia had been miserable all day. Her father got to the point, he couldn’t take it anymore and had fled the room. Dracia’s mother bent down and kissed Dracia’s cheek telling her all would be well.

“I will stay for a little longer, mother,” said Dracia. “I would like to get up and refresh myself.”

“Yes, of course,” said her mother. “I will go see about some food for you. I believe Roderick Ellis told your father he would be by this afternoon. If you are feeling well, perhaps you can leave with him.”

Dracia nodded. “Yes, thank you.”

Her mother stood up and turned, but before she walked out of the room, she turned back to Dracia and pulled something out of her pocket. She held it in her hand towards Dracia.

“I saw this before the attendants could undress you after you fell ill. It seemed a handsome piece of jewelry, and I thought you would want me to keep it safe,” said her mother.

Dracia took it slowly from her mother’s hand looking up at her.

“I am guessing it must have been a gift from someone. It is a very fine locket. The engraving on it is very intricate, a golden eagle, I believe,” said her mother.

“Yes,” said Dracia as she put the locket around her neck, tucking it under her nightgown.

“I suppose that would make for an interesting gift to one who oversees the safety of the royal family,” said her mother. “I’ll admit my curiosity got the better of me, and I did try to open it. I couldn’t figure it out.”

“It can only be opened by certain people,” said Dracia.

“A very interesting gift, indeed,” said her mother. “The golden eagle does remind me that the Crown Prince is with your father currently. He said he needed to meet with your father for the king, but he seemed very interested on how you were feeling. He had heard you fell ill somehow.”

“I am sure Roderick informed the prince and the king. The prince and I have known each other for many years. We are old friends.”

“I do remember you two playing together as children. It is nice to see you still share a friendship,” said her mother with a smile.

Dracia only nodded, not sure what else to say as her mother stared at her.

“Dracia, I know we have never been close, but I would never do anything to hurt you in anyway. I have always thought you were destined for grand things. It is why I pushed you.”

“Then your hard work paid off, as I am the leader of one of the greatest institutions in the land,” said Dracia.

“You are,” said her mother. “I will leave you for a moment so you can see to your needs. I will be back after I check on some food for you.” Her mother moved to the door and put her hand on the knob. She turned and looked at Dracia. “I will also inform the prince that you are awake and feeling better. I am sure your friend will be very relieved.”

Dracia watched her mother leave before throwing herself back in her bed. Another complication that Dracia did not need.

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