Eyes & Feathers
Hovering above her was a pair of beautiful, pale green eyes... so close that she could touch them... Cyra reached out a hand to hold the faceless orbs, but they blinked away, leaving her in the dark.
Her fingers felt around in the darkness. The air was frigid, and a shapeless mist hovered around her, somehow visible in the dark space.
“What are you doing here?” The disembodied voice echoed in her ears, and she struggled to come up with something to say. “What are you doing here?” Now there were many voices, saying those five words; some slowly, some whispering, others moaning.
“I... I don’t know...” Cyra turned around and around, trying to find the source of the noise. Three steps forward into the darkness proved nothing. The voices still asked the same question. “I don’t know. I don’t know!” She began to run, trying to shake them off, the darkness, the noise. She stopped when she felt a hand on her shoulder and whipped around, facing the person.
Her blood ran ice cold. Those pale green eyes were attached to a face. One she knew well.
“Gunnar.” He looked at her with a sad expression, clothed in the same black outfit he wore on his funeral pyre. His ink-black hair was pushed back behind a crown made of raven’s feathers, and he wore a pelt of fox fur around his broad shoulders. Shocked into stillness, she fumbled for words to say but found her mouth had dried up.
“You can’t be here, little bird... Go home.” His voice, still the same one she knew, echoed like a powerful drum in her ears.
“Wai--” Cyra felt herself fall swiftly, tumbling through a dark and unforgiving sky.
“... right into a goddamn trap.” Alorha’s voice trickled into her ears as she regained consciousness, her fingers, toes, and nose taking shape once more.
“My guards are hunting down the rest of the band as we speak. I should’ve made them scan the woods before we went out.” Regret tinged Halewijn’s words, and she could feel his anger from where she was. Cracking open one eye and then the other, Cyra took in her surroundings.
The ceiling, painted with the image of a ten-armed, dark-skinned goddess, glowed in the light of the fire burning in the hearth. Usasis, the champion-goddess of Beginnings and Conquests, looked down at her in triumph, holding the head of a dead demon in one left hand and the world in a right hand. The red tongue hanging from her mouth seemed to wag at her as the fire-light danced, which was the intention when the Healing Room was built. Whoever was sick would stare at the tongue in fascination, and the movement would scare off death, if only for a moment.
Cyra tried to sit up but found that any movement from her body would increase the pounding in her head. Groaning, she placed a palm on the sore spot, feeling a rough texture of a bandage against her fingertips. Halewijn’s golden eyes appeared in her line of sight, a worried expression written across his features. He pressed a soft hand to her cheek and whispered his thanks to Usasis.
“How do you feel?” He inquired, his thumb stroking the skin underneath her eye. Cyra couldn’t speak; it was as if they had packed her mouth with cotton. Hal frowned, but then directed his attention toward her leg. Cyra looked down at her right leg, now covered in another bandage, a dark red spot blooming where the arrow had been. “Mirabel, some water, please.” Mirabel appeared with a pitcher moments later and poured a glass for Cyra. The lady-in-waiting could not look at her mistress as she passed her the cup, no doubt because the sight of blood made her queasy. Cyra snatched the glass and drank the water greedily, some of it running down her chin in a small river. When she finished, the cotton-mouthed feeling disappeared, and she cleared her throat.
“What happened?” Alorha took this as his cue to push off the fireplace and begin his recounting of the events.
“We were ambushed in the woods by some robbers and thugs. Luckily, after you fell off Jasper, Mirabel shot a man in the arm, and we captured him. Wyndemere is interrogating him as we speak.” The thought of Wyndemere interrogating anyone made her shudder. The leader of the royal guard was nothing if not incredibly convincing with a whip. If Cyra strained hard enough, she imagined that she would be able to hear the sounds of the interrogation all the way from the dungeon. Wyndemere could be sadistic and unrelenting... when necessary.
“Normally that area is safe... I wonder what drove the bandits so far up the coast.” Mirabel chimed in, still holding the pitcher at her side.
“It’s very possible that this was an opportunistic attack. I doubt someone organized would intentionally plan to ambush us in the woods when we have three skilled fighters on hand.” Cyra shrugged, wincing at the pain that shot up her neck from the motion.
Halewijn stared off into space, a look of intense thought forming by the scrunching of his brows. “No... this was a warning. This attack wasn’t meant to do any real, lasting damage. Why else would the others run off? Wouldn’t they stay and try to fight for the potential riches?”
“Well, they saw that we were armed. That might’ve scared the thugs off.” Alorha pushed back. “Anyways, I’m going to check on Wyndemere and see how things are going.” Alorha made for the small door, and Mirabel followed him wordlessly, closing the door behind her. Cyra turned to Halewijn, who continued to stare into the fire with an unreadable expression on his face.
“What are you thinking?” Cyra whispered. He rested his forearms on the bed, placing his warm hands on the tops of her calves.
“It had to be a warning.” Hal shook his head, the corners of his lips curving down.
“From who?” She wondered, searching his golden eyes as he turned to her.
“My father. Who else?” Cyra’s lips parted in surprise, and her breath hitched in her throat. “It’s the only thing that makes sense to me. And if that’s the case, that man down there won’t say a word. He’ll die before he talks.” The thought of a man dying from the whipping Wyndemere indeed had planned for him took her breath away. No one had been killed under his whip, yet. But if what Halewijn said turned out to be accurate, there’d be one less person alive before the day was over. He intertwined their fingers and murmured,
“You were knocked unconscious for a while there. You had me worried.”
“Oh?” Cyra’s mouth turned up into a smile. “Worried you wouldn’t ascend to the Eastern Court throne?” Halewijn half-laughed, placing his forehead on their clasped hands.
“I was more worried that I would never kiss you again.” He spoke softly, his gaze drifting to her lips. Cyra brought a hand up to his face, his beard soft to the touch. “Why did you leave so quickly after we kissed that day in the city?”
“I was afraid.” Cyra let slip, shocking herself.
“What were you afraid of? Me?”
“No...” Something dawned on her, and she felt the dam inside her mind break. “No, I felt afraid because I didn’t want to betray the memory of Gunnar.” Gunnar and his pale, green eyes. Gunnar, who had commanded her to return to her body instead of remaining in the darkness with the voices. Gunnar, who wore a crown of raven feathers and a fox-fur pelt around his shoulders - things he had never owned in his lifetime. Understanding flickered across Halewijn’s face, and he leaned forward, brushing the tips of her intertwined fingers against his lips.
“Would he not want you to... be happy while you are here?”
“I would like to think that he would want me to be happy. But... would that mean finding someone else? Or honoring him by never being with anyone ever again?”
“That is a sacrifice you would be willing to make, I’m sure. But would falling in love with... someone else... make you happy?” They both knew by ‘someone else,’ Halewijn meant himself.
“I... I suppose there would be some happiness to be found.”
“How will you know if you never try?” The challenge hung between them like an unopened invitation. Cyra could feel the desire pooling in her stomach - some deep part of her wanted to find out. She wanted to know if maybe... just maybe... there could be some joy in finding another lover. “May I kiss you again, Princess?” Halewijn whispered, his breath tickling her skin.
“Yes.” She breathed, and Halewijn eased himself up far enough to lean over her without crushing her leg. One hand cupped her left cheek, while the other kept him steady as he slowly lowered his face down to meet hers. In the seconds before their kiss, Cyra swore her heart was loud enough to be heard even in the dungeons. When their lips met, little stars danced behind her closed lids, and she felt her body explode. For a moment, she was nothing and no one, just pure energy scattered around the room. When she came back to herself and had gathered all of her dispersed pieces, Halewijn ended the kiss by pulling away, his eyes still closed. When they fluttered open, it almost seemed like they were brighter, the gold somehow glowing.
“I’ve never felt that burst of energy before.” She admitted, her breathing ragged. Halewijn blinked and shook his head, chuckling.
“You would think--”
The door to the Healing Room flew open, and Bilka rushed in, her hair in disarray and her lips moving with no sound. At the sight of an awake - and possibly even blushing? - Cyra, Bilka gathered her up in her arms, eliciting a groan from Cyra due to the pressure.
“Oh, gods, they said you were injured and unconscious, and I knew I had to run down and see about you!” Cyra said nothing as Bilka fussed about her, tucking the sheet at the foot of the bed around her in haste and pressing a hand to Cyra’s forehead, feeling her temperature.
Cyra stole a glance at Halewijn, who cracked a smile and raised his brows at the interaction. On the other hand, she attempted to halt her mother’s ministrations and send her off to plan.
“Mother, how is the engagement party coming along?”
“Well, I was deciding on the menu when the news came up from Alorha and Mirabel- oh, Halewijn, you’re so brave for carrying Cyra all the way back to the palace, you know. Such a wonderful fiance...” Cyra turned to him again, a question in her look. Halewijn shrugged, looking up at Bilka.
“It wasn’t a big deal, really. The princess weighs nothing, and it was the least I could do. I wish I could’ve done more to protect her from those men, though.” It was an honest statement from the High Prince and revealed a level of vulnerability Cyra didn’t think she would experience between her mother and her... fiance.
“Well, I - for one - am incredibly grateful for your presence here.” As her mother rambled on about Halewijn’s many qualities, she thought about the idea that, yes, she had agreed to marry this man in less than six months. Ostara’s looming date weighed heavily on her heart, and the memories that would come with the wedding date and festival day would not be easy to ignore.
Somehow, she knew she’d have to push aside all of the memories of Gunnar in the months, weeks, days, hours, and minutes leading up to the ceremony. The thought of moving Gunnar to the back of her mind made her shoulders slump. What was she doing?
Halewijn noticed Cyra’s change in mood and stood, clasping her hand in his. “I think Cyra should rest for a while. She seems exhausted, don’t you think?” Her mother noticed her deflated daughter and nodded quickly.
“I’ll let you get your rest.” Bilka motioned for Halewijn to walk with her for a little while. He agreed to do so if only to steer her away from Cyra for a moment. Cyra took this short reprieve as a sign for her to try to rest, regain her strength, and let the silence be all-encompassing.
But all she could see when she closed her eyes were the pale green ones that had told her to go home.