Mummers & Lace
Whispers of fabric ran around Cyra as the dressmaker clothed her in white, her plump, rosy cheeks, and round figure reminding her of a storybook character. Cyra was stuck with Bilka and Smyrna during her dress fitting, as no one could find Mirabel later that morning, no matter how hard they looked.
“The bust has to be modest.” Bilka piped up behind the woman, who merely nodded as she worked.
“And the frame just right around the waist,” Smyrna added, sipping tea from her porcelain cup. Cyra looked down at the woman - who measured the length from her knees to the floor - and gave an apologetic smile. The lady smiled and shook her head - this was not by any means new to her. The business of wedding dress creating wasn’t easy, but it was a task the lady below her had done many times before.
“Do you have any preferences?” The dressmaker whispered as she brushed the back of the fabric down Cyra’s backside. “Anything special?” Cyra eyed her mother and Smyrna, who chattered about gossip and things that wouldn’t matter in twenty-four hours. The coast was clear.
“I like long sleeves.” The woman nodded, her chestnut bun bobbing as she acknowledged the request. Then came the veil and the crown. The silver plastic thing was nowhere near as decadent as the crown she would inherit upon becoming the High Princess, but it fit for sizing purposes. The veil dropped down to her waist, and the dressmaker stepped back.
“Tulle is cheap!” Her mother chimed in, and the dressmaker moved to choose one made of silk. “No, the lace one.”
The lace veil dropped over her eyes, and the two women oohed and ahhed in unison. Cyra rolled her eyes behind the cover - couldn’t someone rescue her from the most unnecessary part of wedding planning?
As if the gods heard her prayer, Wyndemere came stumbling into the shop, his white hair tousled. “Mummers!” He shouted at the women, who filed out of the shop with haste. The rowdy actors and sword dancers’ annual parade was one of the highlights of the Yuletide, which the dressmaker recognized as she quickly stripped Cyra of the fabric and let her escape into the street barefoot.
By the time she got to the edge of the sidewalk, colors were passing her by - reds, blues, purples, oranges, white, black, greens - all who beheld the performers could not contain their fascination. The din of pan pipes and drums grew in timbre, and many began to clap along disjointedly with the music as they approached a makeshift stage, where various characters climbed on and danced about before beginning their play.
This year, it was a play about the gods: Shekmir - the god of judgment, who dressed in all gold from head to toe, Usasis - the goddess of beginnings and conquests, her skin dark and tongue cherry red, Rhadros- king of the gods, with his battle-ax, the Ash Wolf - bringer of chaos, and finally, the King of Spirits - not a god, but a human who lived a just life and died as an innocent. Cyra knew this play by heart.
The Ash Wolf, determined to eat the gods, would pounce on Usasis and attempt to bite out her throat after knocking her unconscious, but Rhadros would stop the Wolf by chopping off one of his back legs. An actor beneath the stage would toss a fake wolf leg into the crowd, and the children would shriek - out of fear or obligation, no one ever knew. Then Rhadros would suffer a blow from the Ash Wolf that would leave him incapacitated. Before the Ash Wolf could finish the job, however, Shekmir would struggle with the Wolf himself, tangling with the beast in a mass of fur and gold until they both died. Upon Shekmir’s death, the now recovered Usasis and Rhadros would petition the King of Spirits for Shekmir’s soul to return it to his body and restore justice to the world. The King of Spirits would grant their request - a life for a life - and return the god to the living, and the play would end.
Cyra clapped every time, mostly for the actors and not the story itself, amused by the actors’ theatrics every year. When the play was over, the audience would dance to the music for a few minutes, representing the return of the people’s joy. Cyra found herself among many dancers, but her bare feet were a hazard on the concrete pavement and cobblestones. She watched as the actors danced with the townsfolk and smiled at the children who formed a tiny ring to swing around. The joy in the crowd set her heart at ease, making her forget all of the troubling things she knew would come.
The night did not come slowly, nor did Cyra have to wait long to see the High Prince in her chambers again. With a sly smile, Halewijn entered the room and took his place at her desk, waiting for her to acknowledge him as she dressed.
“I’ve come to escort you down for dinner whenever you’re ready.”
Cyra glanced up as she rolled her hair into a bun, grinning back at him before cursing as she dropped a hairpin to the ground. The High Prince stooped to pick it up and offered it to the Princess, who whispered her thanks as she proceeded to pin up her hair.
“How did the dress fitting go?” He asked, taking his place in the chair again.
“Terribly.” Cyra groaned, placing her hands on either side of the dresser as she exhaled. “Did you get a chance to see the Mummer’s Play?”
“I did, from afar. I couldn’t get close enough to see more than just the colors on the stage. But the premise of it was lovely.”
“That story is one of the few I know about the gods. But I love watching it every year.”
“Only a few stories?” Halewijn laughed. “Perhaps I should give you lessons on the gods and their progeny.”
“Well, I know all the ones about Usasis since she’s my patron goddess.”
“Yes, goddess of beginnings and conquests.”
“And yours is Shekmir, the god of judgment. Maybe we can start there.” Cyra advised, moving around the bed to look inside the closet for a dress.
“Where should I begin?”
“At the beginning.” She threw over her shoulder, and when he looked up, he caught her cheeky grin.
“Fair enough,” He inhaled, rubbing the back of his neck. “The conception of Shekmir is muddled; some regions believe that he was born from Rhadros’ spit; others believe he was born of Rhadros’ tears. But no matter how he came to be, Shekmir was not an easy god to manage. Despite his status as the god of judgment, Qhitara, goddess of wisdom, doesn’t always accompany him on his pursuits.”
“That’s my mother’s patron goddess.”
“Ah, that’s not something I was aware of,” Halewijn teased, leaning forward as Cyra slipped on a navy blue dress. “But he is swift with judgment. He doesn’t waste a second meting out punishments to the unjust and forgiveness to the righteous.”
“Have you ever encountered Shekmir?”
“In the desert. Most people are born with a patron god, but no one gave me a god. My mother hated this, but my father used this as an example whenever he wanted to make me seem... unfit for the kingdom. After my father abandoned me in the desert, Shekmir came to me in a dream and guided me to water. Then he demanded I make him my patron god. He has never steered me wrong.”
“And he’s using you to mete out judgment against your father.” The observation was not a new one, Cyra realized as Halewijn looked up from his lap. “Doesn’t that bother you?”
“I’ve known this for quite some time.” A breath. “I’d be lying if I said I haven’t wanted to get my revenge.”
“But why do you need me to do that?”
“I don’t.” Halewijn leaned back, cocking his head to the side and slinging his arm over the back of the chair. “I never have.” Cyra frowned at him, her brows furrowing deeply.
“But you said your god told you --”
“That I need to right my father’s wrongs, yes. Not that I had to marry you.”
“Then why propose in the first place?” Halewijn stood, stalking over to her in a few strides. He tilted her chin up with his index finger, like the day before and squinted his eyes.
“Why not? I found someone I liked. That just so happened to be you, out of all of the women I’ve met in my travels; I knew I had to make you my wife after you left the party that night.”
“So, you’re not marrying me for some secret agenda?” She wondered, placing her hands on her hips.
“The only secret plan is to keep you close to me as much as I can. You’re free to fly, little bird, but I hope you’ll come back to me every time.” Little bird. The nickname Gunnar had given her now fell from Halewijn’s lips, and she felt a shock run through her as she looked into Halewijn’s eyes. He leaned in to capture her lips in a kiss, brushing his thumb across her cheek as she kissed him back. “No wine tonight.” He muttered, stroking her cheek as he stared into her eyes.
“No wine,” Cyra confirmed, and they walked arm in arm to the dining hall.