A Tale of Crowns and Stars

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Years Ago

Gunnar had been dead for over a week, and his body lay in the palace chapel.

The dark spell book Cyra acquired from The Mavens sat in her lap as she looked at the darkening skies, waiting for the full moon to rise from the East. Not including the book, three items sat splayed out on the table, each for a crucial purpose. She had to do everything just right to bring Gunnar back from the dead, or else she would lose him forever.

The feather of a white raven, a lock of hair, and an earthen bowl sat waiting to come under the moonlight. The thought of Gunnar returning to life spurred her to consult the dark beings in the forest. Each Maven told her exactly how she was to perform the ritual: she would need to place each item in the bowl right after the moon crested high in the sky, then she would need to offer ten drops of her blood to the bowl and paint two Sowelu runes on her cheeks before chanting the spell in the book.

The moon neared its peak, and when the time had come, she did as instructed—first, the feather, then the lock of hair. Finally, using the sharp edge of a knife she stole from dinner, she sliced her right hand and squeezed it over the bowl. Counting down from ten, she watched the blood stain the feather and slowly collect at the bottom of the brown bowl. Taking the rest of the blood in her hand, she painted her face, and when she finished, Cyra went to the stand where she placed the spell book and began to chant,

“Tveimar ek Sowelu ristan. Tveimar ek Sowelu fahido. Tveimar ek Sowleu galan.” She repeated the chant three times before anything happened; the bowl and its contents remaining the same until she started chanting for the fourth time.

Suddenly, the bowl, the feather, the blood, and the hair melted onto the table, each color - white, brown, red, and black - blending into each other as one. Cyra looked down at the book, its words now glowing brightly and peeling off the page like ribbons, the letters dancing around her face like gnats. Fear gripped her heart while the moon above turned blood-red, and a shriek echoed from below in the garden. Turning to the window and looking down, she witnessed not one, not two, but seven unearthly figures advancing upon the palace, each crying out in pain and anguish, their ghostly specters dragging onward. Cyra screamed and attempted to run towards the door, but the floating words swirled around her with a vengeance. The ghost of a horse galloped through her room and the opposite wall, no doubt causing panic from Mirabel next door.

In answer, someone screamed down below her, followed by the sounds of crashing dishes and other chaotic noises. Cyra batted at the letters about her head, but they began to stick to her hands like leeches. Her plight went from batting away the letters to try to scrape them off her hands, her face, her arms, and chest - but she was unsuccessful at doing all of those things. Panicking, she went running into the hallway to see if anyone was around to help, but a harsh, unexpected wind knocked her down on her backside. Pain shot up her tailbone, and she arched her back to alleviate some of it unsuccessfully. What terrors had she released on her other friends and family? What had gone wrong?

Rolling onto her stomach, she crawled to the door, rising on her knees to turn the knob and push it out, but it was already opening on its own. Cyra fell onto her elbows and came face to face with a pair of riding boots, the exquisite black leather somewhat familiar to her. She knew no one in her own family owned a pair of riding boots that looked so neatly made, but it didn’t matter because she was falling asleep and the letters dissolved into her skin before she closed her eyes and she could feel the carpet beneath her cheek and she and she and she and--

When Cyra awoke, she found herself in her bed, still in her white nightgown from the previous night. The room was neat, but when she glanced toward the window - where the stand should’ve been - only empty space remained. She shot up from the bed and padded down to the chapel, which was not too far from her room by foot, and thrust open the doors.

Gunnar still laid on the dais, his lifeless body covered by a white cloth from the neck down. The embalmer’s work on his face was still intact, and his eyes were closed to the world. Tears dropped from Cyra’s eyes as she beheld her yet dead fiance, some part of her - despite the horrors she called upon the night before - hoping for a resurrection. She placed her hands on his broken body, whispering an apology before sinking to her knees in despair.

But beneath her shaking palms, she felt something moving - something alive. Pressing an ear to Gunnar’s chest, she heard the slow, hollow beating of his heart. Additionally, she could feel his lungs moving. Cyra shook - with fear or with joy, she did not know - and ran to find Wyndemere and Alorha with haste.

The twins were in the sitting room when she appeared, both lounging on couches with books in their hands. “You have to come to see this!” She hissed, and the two dropped their books before following her quickly to the chapel.

Wyndemere stood over Gunnar’s body, frowning.

“All of his major organs are working, but there’s no life in him.”

“What do you mean?” Cyra asked, curious about the implications of working organs, but no life.

“I mean, right now? He’s practically still dead. He can’t move on his own, talk on his own... Gunnar is dead, Cyra.” Gunnar is dead. Gunnar is dead. Gunnar is dead. Alorha noticed the slow crumble of her features and held up a hand.

“Wait,” He thought for a moment, trying to come up with a solution for the apparent problem. “When I was a child, I used to watch the burial practices of our people,” He ruffled his white hair nervously. “They used to bury our dead in tombs, but extract all of the living parts - the parts for the afterlife - and put them in the ground. We could do the same for Gunnar, as a tribute and also to protect his organs from decay.”

“How would earth protect them from decay?” Cyra questioned, downtrodden.

“They’re still beating. The ground in the garden honors and protects all living things.” Wyndemere muttered.

“Bury his organs in the garden...” She mused while frowning.

“You’ll also keep a piece of him here with you, which is beneficial to both you and your former in-laws,” Alorha grumbled. “But we must do it soon before they arrive and see what has become of their son.”

The twins took care of removing his organs and delivering them to Cyra in one piece. With the organs’ delivery - the heart, the lungs, the brain, and the genitals - they dug holes in the empty garden beneath her window, placing each in the ground with care.

And in each hole, Cyra dropped seeds for flowers, hoping the roots would grow over the precious items in the ground beneath them. After whispering a quiet prayer to Usasis - a half-apology, half-plea for forgiveness - Cyra left the garden, hoping her pieces of Gunnar would remain intact below for years to come.

When the first blooms grew that next spring, she tended to them obsessively. Red roses rose above his heart, hydrangeas above his brain, white lilies above his genitals, and finally, blue orchids above his lungs. The living, breathing garden grew every year with the passing of the seasons, reminding her that even though Gunnar’s body was long gone, he still lived on.

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