A Tale of Crowns and Stars

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Til Hug O Blod

Explain this to me!”

Halewijn and Cyra flinched at the yelling Queen, who slammed her hands down on the table in front of her in a fury.

“High King Omar assaulted you, and none of us knew but you, Mirabel, Gunnar - may the gods rest his soul - and Halewijn?!” The High Prince opened his mouth to defend Cyra, but at her father’s motion - a quick shake of the head with his eyes closed and his lips pursed - he closed it, letting the Queen continue. “And what’s worse: we invited him into our home on your special day! We’re sending you to him after Yul for your wedding!”

“My Queen,” Halewijn began, holding his hand up to his chest. “Do not be mad with Cyra. It was my idea that we go to my father’s land for our wedding.”

“Did you know of the assault at that time?” The Queen retorted, turning a sharp eye to him.

“No.” Halewijn slowly admitted. The Queen clicked her tongue and shot a look at her husband, who folded his hands and sighed loudly.

“Cyra, why did you hide this from us?” Cyra shifted in her seat, feeling the six eyes on her face and almost to the point of tears. What was she supposed to say? As if he could read her mind, Halewijn mouthed to her,

“The truth.”

“Gunnar ended up dead because I told him about the assault. I don’t want anyone else to be hurt because of my naiveté.” She whispered to her parents, shame creeping up her neck like a vine.

“The High King murdered Gunnar?” Her father stood, his body trembling ever so slightly.

“He did. And he tried to murder us the day Cyra was shot in the leg.” Halewijn added, his jaw clenched tightly. Cyra stared at the High Prince, his normally playful golden eyes now hardened like a metal sheet. “But I have a plan that will stop him from doing any more damage to anyone else.” The realization that their future son-in-law was talking about treason hit them slowly, but when it was fully understood, the King and Queen looked equal parts afraid and assured.

“Let us hear it, then.”

“I’m going to usurp my father. I’ve found a way to do it without committing high treason.” Cyra’s heart skipped a beat, fearing the worst outcome.

“You mean--” Her father cut himself off, his skin turning ashen as he returned to his seat.

“I’m calling upon the old rules of kingship. Before the First Wars, whenever someone wanted to challenge a corrupt king’s rule, they would call Shekmir, God of Judgement, to preside over the Twelve Trials. I will invoke that rule when we meet my father in the High Court.”

“But Halewijn, the wedding --” Bilka objected, balking at the idea of bloodshed around such an occasion.

“When I call upon my patron god, I will be under his influence until the end of the trials. If I defeat my father, I will become the High King. If I fail...” There was a flash of regret in his eyes before he stood, placing his palms on the table. “But you all needn’t worry. Only one man before me has traversed down this path, and he made it through unscathed.”

“Duchaine.” Her mother exhaled the name, only once glancing toward Halewijn as her ears turned red. The truth might come spilling out of her at any moment, but Cyra interrupted.

“How do you know you’ll be successful? Aren’t the Twelve Trials picked at random?” Halewijn nodded, lacing his brown fingers together solemnly.

“Please, Halewijn... Please do this after the wedding. I will not have my daughter’s future left to uncertainty yet again.” A sweat had broken out on her mother’s forehead, and for a moment, Cyra wanted to chastise her for being so overly concerned about her potential wedding to the High Prince. But Halewijn threw a look to Cyra before she could speak, a warning in his eyes.

“My Queen, I would be remiss if I left Cyra to her own devices. She would be better off as a widow than a jilted bride.” Twice jilted, she wanted to add, but that would do nothing to further her own agenda. She would be damned if she let another potential husband die on her watch.

As soon as she could, she would find Wyndemere and employ his devices. There was no other way.

The man Wyndemere was interrogating had died from his injuries.

“Whipped to death,” the coroner spoke while writing it down on his little notepad.

“Good enough,” Wyndemere answered, wiping his hands before meeting Cyra at the entrance of the dungeon. “Princess, to what do I owe the pleasure?”

“I need your help curating something,” Cyra answered, wringing her hands. Wyndemere raised a white brow in question, the corner of his lips hitching up in surprise. He leaned against the stone door, crossing his arms over his chest. In another life, Cyra was sure she would’ve been in love with Wyndemere, but the man had sworn off love and all of its complicated accouterments before he turned thirteen.

“Little Cyra needs something dangerous... but for what?”

“I need something to protect myself.”

“I have many little trinkets you can protect yourself with, but I need to know who you need protecting from before I prescribe one to you.” Cyra’s eyes flicked to Wyndemere, and his lips tightened before he nodded twice. “I take it your fiance doesn’t know you’re looking for...”

“No. And he will never know.” She warned Wyndemere, who threw his hands up in surrender and turned to walk down the long, torch-lit hallway.

“Have you two ever considered just avoiding Omar for the rest of his life?”

“How can we avoid him when he insists on being where we are? I’m sure his life’s goal is to make every waking moment hell for us.” Wyndemere pushed open a massive metal door to reveal the personal armory of the Royal Guard.

“Take a look around and see what you like.” The walls were covered in different types of weapons, some she had seen before, and some she had never been exposed to in her life. Longbows, crossbows, recurves, maces, spears, daggers... She touched a sword that looked like a crab claw but jerked back when she felt a hum sing through the weapon.

“High King Duchaine’s zulfikar. Don’t use that unless you want to have Widion inside your mind.” Widion, the God of Torture. His visage - a massive blue and black face with bulging eyes and snake-like lips- was painted on the very doors of this dungeon.

“Do you keep all of my ancestor’s weapons down here?”

“Most of them. The only one we’re missing is the First King’s battle hammer.” First King. No one knew his name. To utter it would be to bring his spirit from the dead, so it had been stricken from every book, every monument, and every memory. “It had his name on it, as it was his gift from the Gods. But we don’t know where it went after he died.” Cyra nodded, examining the rest of the collection with wonder. The longbow of the first Queen, Mianiha, sat above an array of longbows, the bow itself made from bark from the Three Willows in the North.

“Which type of weapon do you recommend?”

“For high treason? Poison.” Wyndemere answered quickly as if he already knew how to plan the murder of High King Omar; he was waiting for her to ask.

“That’s going to be hard to get down his throat.” Cyra scoffed, and Wyndemere chuckled, fingering a long dagger with affection.

“There’s more than one way to kill a king, Cyra,” he began, removing his hand from the dagger. He pointed to a tall oak cabinet, and Cyra followed his direction, opening the top drawer with care. Little bottles clinked as she slid the drawer open and peered inside, the shiny assortment glowing back at her where various colors denoted the different types, each one organized by color order.

“What kind of poisons do you have in here?”

“Look at the clear vials.” He tossed over his shoulder, eyeing a mace carefully before wiping a speck of dust from a spike.

“They’re full of formaldehyde.”

“Formaldehyde...” The fondness in Wyndemere’s tone did not escape her. He sauntered over to the open drawer and smiled down at the bottles as if they were his pets, each precious to the leader of the Royal Guard. How many men had he slipped poison into in his years, Cyra wondered internally.

The white-haired man dipped his hand into the drawer and drew out a vial of the dangerous liquid, swirling it around in the bottle with glee. “One whiff of this could send a weaker man into a coma. A sip? I could send him to the spirit world.”

“Have you ever...?” Cyra pressed, looking into his unyielding black eyes.

“The less you know, the better.” The smile he gave her was toothy, almost scary. His pearly white teeth shone in the light of the hanging candelabra above them. “But honestly, this is an easy and painless way to send your High King off to meet his makers.”

“What about a physical weapon?” The light danced in Wyndemere’s eyes, and he gave her a wicked look.

“Blunt force trauma does wonders for the soul.” Cyra flinched, shrinking back at the look he gave her as he motioned toward the maces.

“Perhaps something swifter and less painful?” Wyndemere looked at the poison one more time before shrugging his shoulders and placing it in the drawer again.

“You would be hard-pressed to find anything lethal and painless among these weapons.” He surveyed the room, his white hair flowing behind him like the mist of the night. “Should you think about the murder of the foulest kind, I always recommend a dagger...” He paused, looking at the various blades stored high above his head. “A dagger with poison on it.” He finished, looking over his shoulder with the corner of his mouth turned up ever so slightly.

“You’re dead set on this poison, aren’t you?”

“My Princess!” Wyndemere mocked shock. “I would never lead you astray with the most effective weapon I own. But,” He grabbed a short, golden-bladed dagger. “Since you insist on having a weapon at your disposal, I will give you the dagger my superior gave me upon his passing.” Cyra took the dagger in her hands, feeling its weight against her palm. The golden dagger didn’t shine as she expected it to. The dull glow of the metal in the candlelight took her off guard, but there was something else about it that concerned her... something she couldn’t put her finger on. As Wyndemere fiddled with a thigh holster for her dagger, she held the blade as if she were going to stab him with it. The feeling was wrong... Something about this dagger wasn’t quite right.

“You’re going to want to put it in this and keep it close to you at all times. This dagger has never been used in battle.”

“Then why is it here? If it’s a virgin blade, why doesn’t it sit in the archives?”

“I never said it hadn’t been used at all” Wyndemere tossed her the thigh holster, staring at her grimly. “I just said it hadn’t seen battle.”

“What has it been used for then?” Cyra asked, placing her leg on a rock ledge before pulling the leather on. “To pick teeth with?”

“No.” Wyndemere sighed, placing his fingers on his brows, smoothing them out. “That blade is the same blade that killed the First King.”

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