A few days passed. Nya spent most of them in a daze. Even though Gavin was gone, she still had lessons to learn from her governess. She still had meals she was required to attend with her family. She was still expected to go on about her duties as if nothing had happened, as if nothing had changed, as if her father hadn’t disappointed her something awful.

No matter how many days went by, the burning desire within her to get revenge for Gavin. While there was nothing she could do to get even with her father for manipulating the system and reading Gavin’s name when she was almost certain the paper had read something different, she would find a way to make sure that the dragon himself paid. After all, he was the one who’d claimed Gavin’s life. Her father had merely supplied the opportunity for the dragon to kill.

Less than a week after Gavin’s death, Nya was inside the castle, wandering the halls. Outside, thunderclouds raged and angry raindrops kept her from the forest and any sense of freedom she might’ve had. Escaping to the woods was the only chance Nya had to clear her mind from the reality that Gavin was gone, and even though it hurt to be out in the place they’d shared together, it was far better than being in the castle with the royal family.

Noises from the main hall caught her attention, and she realized some of the soldiers were training inside, to escape the rain. She’d seen it dozens of times, but this time, it caused her to pause and look in.

Xaver Cross was leading the soldiers through different drills. There were only about thirty of them, and from their uniforms, Nya could tell they were all new recruits. It wouldn’t have been difficult to tell from the way they held their swords, or from their stances, or the way they confronted one another either. All of them were tall, athletic men, with muscles and dexterity, but Xaver had to stop them often, walking amidst them, redirecting their movements, giving them suggestions for how to improve.

He was still working for the army--still working for the king. Nya’s mouth hung agape as she watched him. How could he do that? How could he continue to serve the kingdom that had failed him so dramatically? She didn’t understand. If it had been her only child taken from her and sacrificed as Gavin had been, the last thing in the world she’d want to do was continue to serve someone who’d treated his family so atrociously.

Nya watched from the doorway for several moments as the troops continued to train. She noticed how good Xaver was at going over to correct the troops that needed it. He was always kind but even the slightest miscue needed correcting, and he took care of it directly. Nothing at all seemed to slip past him. By the time he dismissed the troops, and they were dismissed through another door, Nya knew exactly what she needed to do.

She approached Gavin’s father cautiously, not sure whether or not he was angry at her. He was gathering up his own weapons and other tools. Nya stopped a few feet from him and waited for him to look at her.

When his eyes, a similar shade to Gavin’s, fell on her, they softened, and a sympathetic smile formed beneath his full mustache. “Princess Nya,” he said. “How have you been?”

“Awful,” Nya admitted. “I assume you’ve been the same.”

Xaver cleared his throat and stood, shoving a sword into the scabbard hanging at his waist, his hands still full of other weapons. “We are getting by,” he said but his voice betrayed that wasn’t the truth. Tears formed in the corners of his eyes. He did his best to conceal them.

Deciding she needed to get to the point before he hurried off and she didn’t get another chance, Nya blurted out her purpose in approaching him. “I want you to train me.”

Xaver was still putting his weapons away but froze at her words, meeting her eyes. “You want me to… what?”

“Train me. To be a soldier,” Nya replied. She’d had some training, but it was basic, and it wasn’t nearly as thorough as the training Xaver provided the soldiers for her father’s army. 

“But… why?” Xaver asked, his eyes narrowing in confusion.

“Because… I am going to kill the dragon.”

Xaver’s stare hardened as he contemplated what she was saying. It only took a few moments for him to shake his head. “No, Princess. I cannot allow you to do that. I won’t be the one to train you if you intend to go after the dragon. It is a foolish endeavor, and I won’t be a part of it.”

Nya’s eyebrows shot up. She wasn’t used to being told no, but then, she wasn’t shocked that Xaver didn’t want to help her. She was surprised he’d even spoken to her at all. She let out a sigh and said, “Please? I will go after the dragon whether you help me or not. Of course, it will be easier if you will train me, but your refusal to help me will not prevent me from going.”

Xaver’s mouth opened for a moment, as if he might argue with her, but then, he closed it and shook his head. “I’m sorry, Your Majesty, but I cannot be a part of an endeavor that will certainly end with you dead.”


Nya’s objection fell on deaf ears. Xaver finished gathering his weapons and swiftly walked out of the hall. The princess watched him walk away, wanting to object but not knowing what to say. It wasn’t as if she had any other arguments to make that he hadn’t already heard.

With a large exhale, Nya turned, intending to walk away. She’d just have to find another way to train to be a soldier. But she wasn’t out of the doorway when she heard a familiar voice from the shadows speaking to her.

“You want to train to be a soldier, do you? To defeat the dragon?” She turned, her eyes cutting through the darkness. She knew who it was before he even stepped into the light, before she even saw his face. When he stepped into the beam of light coming in from the hallway, she locked eyes with him, and her head nodded up and down.

“I will train you,” he said.

She almost laughed, almost chuckled in his face. But then, she realized he meant it, and while she had always hated him, if anyone other than Xaver Cross could train her to kill the dragon, it was him.

Rok Phin.

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