Shame & Sacrifices
Parading about the Grand Hall on Hal’s arm was all Cyra could manage, meeting every person who had chosen to attend the engagement party with a smile and an excited tone. To anyone outside of the trio - her, Halewijn, and Omar - it would seem that the unannounced arrival had been a simple misunderstanding. The High King and his son had been reunited gloriously, and all was right with the world again.
To the three royals, however, the precarious dance they wove around the room was obvious. The High Prince never left the Princess’s side, the High King’s eyes never left the pair for more than a moment, and the Princess never let her gaze drift towards the High King. The dancing music had continued all the while, never once pausing, and despite knowing that danger stood among them, Alorha and Wyndemere played on. When Cyra looked at the twins, she found Alorha’s gentle eyes on her and Halewijn, while Wyndemere kept his enraged gaze on Omar, both of them keeping tabs on the situation. Cyra turned back to the conversation Hal held with an ambassador from the West, his clothing appropriately colored like the expansive sands of their coast.
“...I told the King that we should send a nice gift for the wedding, and he pulls out this incredible list of items to choose from! I was thunderstruck, to say the least.” Halewijn echoed his astonishment, enrapt in the ambassador’s tale. He squeezed Cyra’s hand after a short lapse, making her chuckle and reply,
“What did he - or you - pick?”
“I haven’t been able to decide. I wanted to see both of you in person before I chose the gift. You two strike me as a beautiful and loving pair, however. The way you danced earlier sent chills up my spine,” The young man recounted brightly.
“I had to teach her, but Cyra is a swift learner. I must say she makes me look perfect!” They laughed, and Cyra tried to make hers sound convincing for Halewijn’s sake. Omar still circled about the room like a vulture, and there seemed to be no end in sight for the game, at least not yet.
“Ambassador Fraire, we must see the other guests, but it was a pleasure to speak with you again.”
“I agree!” The ambassador began. “The Western King sends his regards and invites you both to come and spend some time with his family. Princess Maripessa would be delighted to have you as a playmate again.”
“Tell them it would be my honor.”
As Halewijn led Cyra to the other people waiting to make their acquaintance, she looked around the room to see where Omar stood. Despite her feverish searching, she couldn’t find him among the heads in the crowd, and her anxiety spiked. Where had he gone? Had he trapped another unwilling victim in his clutches?
“My son,” The voice behind her startled her so badly that she let out a yelp, causing Halewijn to spin around and pull her behind him, hiding her with his coat. The two men stood a hand’s width apart, meeting each other’s steely-eyed gaze. “I wanted to know if I could steal your fiancee away for a dance.”
“No.” Halewijn replied firmly, and at this, the High King frowned.
“You will not let your father dance with his future daughter-in-law?” There was caution in Omar’s tone, a challenge, and a warning.
“Never.” Halewijn snarled, baring his teeth. Those who could hear the exchange held their conversations and their breath in anticipation. “You will never put your hands on her again.” Eyes turned to Cyra in surprise and confusion, then eyes snapped to Omar, awaiting his reply. Cyra clung to Hal’s coat, gripping the fabric in her hands tightly as she shook in fear while Omar noticed the looks. His eyes slid to his son in astonishment, the daring act striking him at his core. The fact that Halewijn had dared to do it in public shocked him the most and inspired a look of dismissal.
“Then I suppose my presence here is no longer welcome.” The High King began his exit; his face screwed up in an unreadable expression. The crowd parted as he stalked off - no one bid him goodnight, no one called after him, not a single soul dared to speak to him as he passed.
When the High King had finally gone, Halewijn let go of the breath he held and tried to turn to Cyra. She still held a death-grip on his coat, which he shrugged off and pried from her hands tenderly. Without words, he draped the coat around her shoulders and placed a gentle kiss on her brow. Alorha and Wyndemere let go of their instruments, rising to assist the couple in exiting the Grand Hall while Mirabel shoved her way through the crowd unceremoniously. Cyra’s mother and father made no move to stop the five from leaving the party. Shock held them motionless, unsure of what to say to their only child.
Everyone heard what happened.
Everyone knew Cyra’s shame.
The coat of stars lay on the floor in a heap. Besides the coat, Cyra sat next to the fire, warming her hands as Mirabel folded her dress for laundering.
When they had first gotten into the room, Cyra launched into a panic attack, her corset cutting into her ribs as she gasped for air. Wyndemere and Mirabel set to work on stripping the Princess from her clothing and freeing her from her corset while Halewijn held her face and attempted to calm her down, reassuring her as she sputtered her worst fears into the air. During this, a very skilled Mirabel somehow changed her mistress into a long-sleeved satin nightgown without anyone seeing any compromising parts of her.
Halewijn now sat on the floor behind Cyra, braiding her hair before she leaned into him. He rested his chin on the top of her head, the two staring into the fire as Alorha and Wyndemere made plans in the corner of her room, whispering and conniving. Revenge could take many forms, and the twins were adept in that very area. Mirabel was too, but she resigned herself to making sure the couple on the floor were comfortable before taking her leave to meet with the Queen - a summons that Surta herself delivered.
The silence between the two royals stretched on, but neither of them wanted to talk about the events of that evening. Part of Cyra wanted to wipe it from her memory, but she knew that remained near impossible. While she cowered behind Halewijn like a fool, she felt his body shaking with rage, and the heat that came off of him made her feel even more uneasy. It was almost a miracle that the two men had not come to blows right then and there.
Halewijn exhaled deeply behind her and rested his right hand on her thigh, stroking it absentmindedly as he stared into the fire. Despite the circumstances, Cyra found it comforting to feel his touch through the sheer nightgown and felt herself push into his palm ever so slightly. Hal made no move to retract his hand, actually daring to grip her thigh a little tighter and press his thumb down the length of the muscle there. The movement made Cyra exhale shakily, her body becoming a ball of twisted thread aching to be undone.
Somehow, the twins got the hint from far across the room and took their leave, barely muttering a word to the two as they exited. As soon as the door closed, Cyra placed her hand on the one Hal ran down her thigh.
“You put yourself in harm’s way for me tonight.” She stated, and Halewijn only hummed in response. “Your father might try actually to kill you now.”
“It wouldn’t be the first time he’s tried something like that,” Hal muttered, and the truth of the statement weighed heavily on her.
“I don’t want you to die because of me.” She slowly turned over on her knees, staring into Halewijn’s honey-colored eyes. He took her hand and placed it on his heart, gripping it to his chest with sincerity as he spoke.
“If protecting you means I have to sacrifice myself, I will do it.”
“Gunnar did the same thing...” She mentioned, her gaze turning almost deadly serious while Halewijn titled his head to the side and smoothed his free hand across her cheek. “And look where he ended up. I don’t think I can handle any more death. Not like this. Not because of me.”
“This charge to stop my own flesh and blood from taking advantage of every single person he surrounds himself with is not a suicide mission, Cyra. It is--”
“A call from the gods, I know.” She looked down to her lap, fiddling with her fingers. “I just don’t know what I’d do if you got hurt.” Hal bent forward, pressing his forehead to hers, and whispered,
“I won’t fail you, my love.” A pang of recognition hit her in the stomach like a stab wound. “′My love’? You’re in love with me?” The confusion on her face made Halewijn chuckle, then close his eyes as he rubbed his nose against hers.
“I thought you would’ve caught on by now. I’ve tipped head over heels for you, little Princess. Don’t worry. If you don’t love me, I won’t hold any of it against you. I know I can sometimes be a difficult person to understand. But these intense... feelings I have for you? I could not fake them if I tried.”
“Truly.” He pressed a tender kiss to her cheek. “I hope one day I will hear those words fall from your beautiful lips. But if they never do, I will not be upset. I will have found all of the joy in the world from loving you.” Cyra knew the words weren’t in her heart yet, but she could not deny her attraction to Halewijn - there was no earthly reason to. And some part of her needed him; she realized as she gripped his face and kissed him on the lips. Some part of her wanted him. She did not love him yet... but she also knew love could be learned.
Love used to be another dance to sit from the sidelines and watch, another song to avoid singing.
Love was an option, and an appealing one, at that.