A Tale of Crowns and Stars

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Vargar & Hrafn

”Riding is one of my favorite things to do in the winter-time.” Eres smiled, slinging himself over the side of the brown mare with ease. Cyra followed suit, her riding clothes just as warm as they had been two years ago.

Eres had invited her to ride during the previous night’s dinner when neither Halewijn nor Idria listened to their conversation. She accepted - if only to get away for a while - and found herself enjoying his company tremendously. He appeared at her door wearing his black and silver riding gear, his silver hair unmaintained with short curls popping up at different angles. The Grand Duke looked her over with his ice-blue eyes and then jerked his head to the left, indicating that they should go.

“You and Halewijn met during his travels abroad?” Cyra asked, now gripping the reins in her tiny hands.

“Is that what he told you?” Eres wondered, leading his horse into a trot with a gentle tap of his heel. They left the stables slowly, going out into the sunlit fields, where the horses crushed the green grass beneath their feet, going slow in the crisp air.

“What was he supposed to tell me?” Cyra wondered, looking over at the Skaruskan. The Grand Duke smiled, the light catching the shine of his teeth.

“He was supposed to tell you that I saved his life the first time we met.”

“Really?” Cyra’s intrigue grew, and the Grand Duke nodded, grinning.

“It was between him and a large jaguar. I killed the beast to save him, despite it being against Skaruskan law to kill a member of an endangered species. I had to pay a hefty fine to be forgiven for that.” As Eres remembered the incident, he scoffed, shaking his head. “But it’s paid off in dividends. I didn’t know he was a High Prince, but I see the value in him being of high status. Hopefully, it will alleviate the tensions between the two countries when he comes to power.” Eres wasn’t alone in hoping the tensions would dissipate once Halewijn took his place as High King. Cyra led her horse along a familiar path as the Grand Duke continued. “Besides, he’s marrying you, and your family is notorious among our people for being charitable to our cause.”

“That’s true.”

“Just think, it was all because of a High King long ago...” Duchaine. They lapsed into silence as they rode around the wooded area, Eres swatting at low hanging branches when they jutted out at him.

“Perhaps you could tell me more about Skaruska? My friends don’t tell me things about their homeland.”

“They have their reasons. For those who weren’t raised there, Skaruska can be an unforgiving place. But you’ll see why I prefer Skaruska over Oskurga when you visit. I have not seen a single waterfall here. At home, there are hundreds of thousands of waterfalls around the country.”

“Waterfalls?”

“As the name implies, it’s a ledge where water falls off into a lake or pool below. ′Majestic′ doesn’t begin to cover the sight.”

“Ah.” Cyra imagined a waterfall but was sure it was nothing like those in Skaruska.

“Do you love the High Prince?” Eres pulled his horse around suddenly, facing Cyra with a deadly look.

“What?”

“Do you love Halewijn?” He repeated, still straight-faced.

“I--”

“Because if you don’t, I’m going to take issue with your union.”

“I have feelings for him, yes.” Eres thought about her statement.

“′Feelings′ is an excellent way to put it if you’re not ready to admit you are in love. Fair enough.” The Grand Duke abandoned his icy glare and turned around again. “So, tell me more about your childhood.”


Silence.

Cyra lay in the bed, an arm covering her eyes as she relaxed from the long ride. Eres had grilled her about every aspect of life, digging down into the minutiae of her experiences before giving his blessing to marry Halewijn. As if she needed it. Cyra realized he was doing it to protect his friend, but she felt exposed by his answers even more than she had been before.

And now... now, she lay on the bed, hoping to catch a bit of sleep before dinner. Mirabel dropped off her lunch - a salad with chickpeas and lemon pepper chicken - and left the room as quickly as she had come in, avoiding confronting Cyra about the kiss she had witnessed earlier. The Princess had picked at the food before shucking off her shoes and clothes, opting to lay on top of the sheets for once.

Eres had questioned her so thoroughly that she wondered if he knew something she didn’t. The last thing he had said as they were cleaning up the stables was:

“Your last fiance was murdered by Omar... I’m sorry to hear that.”

Cyra only nodded and accepted his sympathies, preferring to keep quiet about the other incident just in case he didn’t know. If he already knew, then it wouldn’t be an issue, she reasoned. Closing her eyes and taking a deep breath, Cyra anticipated another dreamless sleep.


She was wrong.

The dreamscape - upside down as all dreamscapes tended to be - was a frozen forest, not unlike the Dead Forest’s landscape. Heavy fog obscured Cyra’s vision, and she felt around in the woods, hoping she wouldn’t bump into a tree or something worse. Tales of what lurked in the Dead Forest had haunted her as a child, and she knew that if she continued down further into it, she might encounter something particularly nasty.

Moments later, the fog slowly lifted, and Cyra stood in a clearing, examining the barren, snow-covered ground with curiosity. She fully expected to be looking at something when the fog cleared, but nothing and no one stood there with her.

A crackling sound drew her attention away from the clearing and to the forest behind, like someone stepping on dead leaves in midwinter. The sound of crunching snow underfoot made Cyra cringe, the noise getting louder and louder as the uninvited visitor came closer to where she stood, alone and unarmed.

“Who are you?” Cyra called out, but silence answered her. “What do you want from me?”

Out of the corner of her eye, she could see the advancing shape of a white wolf, one that had glassy blue eyes and a hungry look. The wolf didn’t snarl at her as she advanced but instead came closer, eyeing her carefully.

“Don’t worry.” She advised as if the wolf could understand her. “I won’t hurt you.” The wolf bowed its head under her touch, allowing her to pet him without any dissent. Cyra felt her spirit relax; she was at ease here with the creature. She almost wholly surrendered the feeling of fear when a branch snapped behind her, and the wolf reacted quickly.

Instead of running away or towards the sound, the wolf snapped its sharp teeth around Cyra’s right hand, almost completely severing it from her arm in one bite. Cyra let out a bloodcurdling scream, attempting to pry her hand from the wolf’s jaws, but it tore at the rest of the tissue and left her, trotting away with the bloody hand and leaving her with a stump she could not by any means mend. Still, in tremendous amounts of pain, she cradled the stump protectively and settled into the cold snow, crying tears of ice as she bled out while a white, green-eyed raven circled above.


Cyra jerked up from the bed, covered in sweat. She yanked her right hand up - still there - and wiggled her fingers to make sure they were working, and she was no longer in the dream.

Her heart beat wildly in her chest as she slid off the bed and onto the floor, grounding herself by driving fingernails into the fibers of the carpet. As Cyra curled her fingers into the rug over and over again, she reminded herself that the events of the dream weren’t real and that she was still alive with a right hand.

That’s how Mirabel found her on her hands and knees as she steadied her breath. It had been Mirabel who taught her how to ground herself after a particularly terrifying dream.

“Five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, one thing you can taste.” Mirabel reminded her, and Cyra began her countdown.

Five things she could see: the carpet, her hands, the legs of her desk, the legs of her chair, and the wood paneling around the room. Four things she could touch: the carpet, her fingertips, touch the wood of the chair, and her curly hair. Three things she could hear: the sound of her breath, the fire crackling in the hearth, and the coos of a dove flying back into the palace. Two things she could smell: her salty sweat and the fire’s gentle yet present smoky smell. One thing she could taste: the blood in her mouth from where she bit her tongue.

Her senses slowly reminded her that everything was okay; no one wanted to hurt her at that moment. She was fine. Cyra slowly regained her strength and stood from the floor, her knees cracking as she unfolded herself.

“Are you better?” Mirabel wondered, and Cyra nodded, pushing her sweaty hair behind her forehead.

“I need a bath.” The lady in waiting went to draw a bath quickly, aiding her mistress in stepping into the steaming water.

“Would you like to talk about the dream?” Mirabel asked as she dropped lavender oils into the water.

“No.” Cyra stated, remembering the green eyes of the raven above her and the blue eyes of the wolf that tried to kill her.

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