A Tale of Crowns and Stars

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Murder & Murmurs

The night went by with little interruption. No one else came to her bed-chamber, nor was she disturbed in the morning. Cyra drug herself from the chair she had sequestered herself to and slumped against the bed, her long fast from sleep now over. It didn’t take long for her to close her eyes and dream of nothingness. The sound of wind from an open window hushed her mind, quieting endless cogs turning around and around and around.

Sleep was her master now, and nothing would deter her from being in his servitude for the day.

It was the murmuring that woke her. It was the distinct murmur of Mirabel and Alorha, both standing just out of her line of vision. She couldn’t make out the words, and she didn’t want to. Sleep had not felt as long as it should’ve.

“He wants her to come to his chambers.” was all she could strain enough to hear just as Mirabel shut the doors behind her. She walked in, seeming unfazed by the request and yet, somewhat on edge. Had she told him everything?

“The blue gown will look lovely today.” She spoke to herself, rummaging through to find the exact shade of blue gown she told of. Cyra rose from the bed and cleared her throat, looking at the back of Mirabel’s head.

She stiffened almost imperceptibly, her hands stilling on a midnight blue velvet gown. “Good morning, Princess.” Mirabel whipped around, smiling widely. To anyone else, it would’ve appeared that Mirabel had been lost in thought and then promptly shaken out of it by Cyra’s awakening. But Cyra knew the truth. Mirabel had a secret. One she wasn’t so willing to tell.

“Good morning, Mirabel. That midnight blue gown would be nice to finally wear.” Mirabel wasted no time removing it from the closet and draping it over the bed as Cyra lazily padded to the bathroom.

“The silver detailing on the neck and hem will shine against your skin.” Mirabel chirped as she ran the bathwater. Cyra eyed the frock from her position in the bathroom... the mock turtleneck and column shape would definitely bring out the curvatures of her figure. This dress was designed to tempt, not reveal. As she bathed, she imagined the look on Halewijn’s face as she swept into his chambers. All questions would be lost on his tongue when he beheld the true expression of her beauty.

Mirabel took extra care to rub a tap of jasmine fragrance onto her skin, citing its gentle benefits to her scent. She could not ignore the fact that this fragrance was a gift from Halewijn, among the others. The last cylinder still lay unopened on her dresser, it’s existence all but forgotten as there was no point in opening it yet.

When Cyra had dressed and placed her dress on, she tossed her shoulders back and raised her chin. There was no weak princess here. Mirabel finished the look with a pair of sapphire earrings and a short silver necklace, a thumbprint-sized blue sapphire as it’s a pendant. The blue color brought out the steel look in her brown eyes, as well as the golden glow of her chestnut skin.

Cyra took one last look at herself before tossing her long, brown curls over her shoulder and moving towards the door. Mirabel led her to the adjacent corridor, where guests were often housed to be away from the other royalty, but close enough to allow themselves some company when needed. Cyra looked upon the doors in the hallway, each one shut except for one. The tall oak door - indistinguishable from the others - lay open just a crack, bright yellow light spilling through it. Mirabel took the chance to knock on it, waiting for a response.

“Come in,” Halewijn spoke beyond the door, a bit muffled. Mirabel entered the room, curtsying before announcing Cyra’s presence and then moving out of the way. “Thank you, Mirabel. Please give the Princess and I the room.” Mirabel waited for Cyra to enter before leaving her alone in Halewijn’s chambers.

The room was unremarkable when it came to the standard guest bed, the chairs facing the fire and curtains. But it seemed that Halewijn had added his own touch to the room with sheets, seemingly woven from pure gold and fleece. The decorated mantle above the fireplace hosted numerous trinkets, each delicate and unique in its own way. One particular item - a glass elephant - drew her attention, and she examined it closely, reaching out to touch it.

“I wouldn’t touch that.” Cyra looked back at Halewijn, who hadn’t bothered to look up from the writings on his desk.

“And why not?”

“That glass elephant holds the memories of thousands of dead Bedouins. You might be overwhelmed with the visions they had.” Cyra looked at the glass elephant again, the object’s voice - voices, actually - now audible and whispering, “Touch me. Touch me and see what I hold.” She quickly turned away from the trinkets and now faced Halewijn, who signed the bottom of the letter and nimbly unfolded himself from his position over the desk. The pair did not speak, Hal crossing his leg over his knee and folding his hands into his lap. Cyra considered shifting nervously in her dress, but that was not the impression she wanted to make. Instead, she chose to sit on the edge of his bed, eyeing him carefully. Finally, Halewijn exhaled deeply.

“Mirabel told me about how you found him. Dead.”

“How much did she tell you?”

“She told me everything about that day. I told her to spare me no details.” Halewijn pressed a finger to his temple. “Why did he go off to fight? Your betrothed had the status of a high-ranking official who could have organized troops from the coast.”

“Omar commanded that he fight on the front lines. Gunnar would do anything to keep this country safe, but in this... he really had no choice.” Halewijn hmm’d.

“My father sent your betrothed off to the front lines of battle. He must have greatly displeased him.” An observation. Not a chastisement.

“I--” The truth was stuck in her throat. One good push and it would come hurling out.

“Cyra, anything you tell me about my father will not surprise me or make me think less of you for knowing.” Her blood chilled at the knowing look he gave her. The sun in his eyes gleamed like two beacons of fire, and he dipped his chin, still training his eyes on her. Somehow, he had seen right through her, but he didn’t know it. Yet.

“He--” There was a pause before Cyra found the will to push it out of her mouth. “Three Yul’s ago...”

Three Yul’s ago, Cyra found herself in the High King Hall, watching the entertainers parade about and create a spectacle for all involved. She had been a mere twenty, only two years into the joys of drinking and being merry in the presence of others. Her mother and father, abstaining from the wine until a much later hour, had disappeared into the festival crowd, no doubt “making new friends,” as her mother put it. Making new friends simply meant her mother made her rounds as a queen, making people feel special, and possibly even inviting them for a tour of the palace in the springtime.

Gunnar, not yet her fiance - but certainly a contender for her hand in marriage- sat two tables away, talking and laughing with his own family: the Southern court. A toast was made, Cyra raised her half-full glass, and Gunnar turned to her and raised his own, catching her with his green gaze. The smile that spread across her lips could not be hidden, and Gunnar took this as an invitation to excuse himself from his mother and father’s side. He swaggered over, a lazy grin spread across his handsome face, then stopped in front of her, broad-chested and muscled from the shoulders down. His eyes roamed up and down hungrily, taking in every stitch of her clothing.

“Princess Cyra, the sun could not match your glow tonight.” The compliment graced her ears and landed right on her tongue, thickening in her mouth.

“Oh...” was all that came out, and Gunnar chuckled, drawing closer to her.

“I seem to have found you tongue-tied.” Cyra blinked twice, clearing her thoughts, and replied,

“Is that how you find all of your potential fiancees? Tongue-tied?” Her sharp wit cut him deep, and he mocked an injury by holding his chest and wincing.

“Fiancees... As in multiple? What do you think I am, Princess? A lion on the prowl at Yuletide?” Cyra shrugged, placing a hand on her hip. Gunnar bowed, now taking her hand in his and kissing the tips of her fingers. “I only have eyes for you, you know.”

“Have the suitors come a-calling so soon?” The voice behind Cyra wasn’t unfamiliar, but she had only heard it from far away. Gunnar straightened up, pulling his jacket down. High King Omar, the most powerful man in their country, appeared at Cyra’s side, touching her elbow. His golden eyes snapped to Gunnar, who stared at the King, half-fearful, half-astounded. Omar gave a laugh, one with little humor to be found in it, and turned to Cyra again. His amber skin and short brown beard shone in the lights of the Yul fire and the candles above, and the large ruby on his crown caught and threw light around the room. He towered over Cyra, and the muscles in his arms bulging underneath his golden tunic. “May I have this dance?” He inquired, not bowing like another Prince would. He was a King. He didn’t have to bow to her at all, much less ask her for a dance.

But Cyra agreed nonetheless and left Gunnar standing in the crowd, clutching his drink with white knuckles. Omar swept her off her feet and into a waltz, turning her about herself and sending the room spinning. Spinning, spinning, spinning was all she could remember until they had spun right off the dance floor, almost as quickly as they had turned onto it.

The corridor he spun her into was empty. The smell of old things clouded her nostrils, and the dim lighting did less for her dizzy spell than it had for her vision. Before Cyra could ask what they were doing in the empty corridor by themselves, Omar beckoned her through an open door. When she hesitated, he said,

“Come look in here.” Cyra took the invitation and walked through the open door, her eyes adjusting to the brighter light slowly and painfully.

Cyra slowly opened her eyes, looking around the room. It was a bedroom... Not anything fit for a king or a queen, but maybe a prince. Two sabers hung on the wall above the bed, the frame carved from a cedar tree. Around the room were various images of Kings, maps, diagrams of multiple regions. Cyra noticed her own - the Eastern Court - was missing from the walls, but the observation was quickly swept to the back of her mind when Omar spoke,

“This used to be my son’s room before he left. Now it stands empty every day and night. I come here often to think...” He paused, resting his hand on a tall cedar post attached to the bed. He looked up at her, expecting some coo of pity, and drew nearer to her, taking her hand in his. “If he had been here... I would’ve made you my daughter-in-law without question. You are such an accomplished young woman. Has anyone ever told you that?” Cyra shook her head, speechless. “It’s true. That’s what I like about you...” He pulled her closer, hand on her waist and head dipping low. The split-second between the separation and meeting of their lips held a choice for Cyra. It was one her body made for her.

Cyra jerked away, disgusted, and snatched her hand back before making her way to the door. But somehow, before she reached for the doorknob, Omar was there, blocking her exit and locking the door.

“Too good for a High King, huh?” The slap across her face resounded against her jaw bone. Cyra gripped her face, backing into the fireplace and feeling for anything she could defend herself with. Omar advanced on her quickly, grabbing her by her hair and pulling her to the bed. Cyra screamed so loud that she was sure help would arrive any moment, but she realized any noise would be drowned out by the music in the Yul hall.

“Please!” Cyra fought her way up to a seated position, her back no longer against the mattress, and pounded her small fists onto Omar’s face. It did nothing.

Omar pushed her down with one hand, holding her wrists above her head, and unbuckling his belt with the other. The look in his golden eyes was cold and ravenous, almost as if some demon had possessed him to do what he now did. Her skirts were pushed up around her hips and--

Cyra stopped suddenly, realizing her hands were in fists, her nails cutting into her skin. Halewijn had stopped looking at her long before she got to this point, his own legs shaking vigorously under the table.

“I’ll spare you the details.” Halewijn still didn’t speak, his eyes squinted at some invisible speck on his desk. “I walked out of there, alive. But I promised I would never speak about it.”

“How did Gunnar find out?”

“The terrors. I would have them in the middle of the day, whenever, wherever... Once we celebrated Yul at our court because the winter was too bad to travel, I had an episode in front of him. He said he would confront Omar on his own. Apparently, he did, and because he was a Prince, he was allowed to walk away and tell the tale. But when our engagement was announced... Omar had him killed. He knew if Gunnar ever became King of the Southern Court, he would have to either cater to his every whim or answer for his crime.”

“My father would never take a chance on either of those things.” Halewijn mused, hunched over his desk. “I now see why I had to come here...” He paused, then leaned back, rubbing his eyes. “I’m going to have to kill my own father.”

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