Trials & Sleep
The sound of the tagelharpa - played by Alorha, the most skilled player in all of Oskurga - and Wyndemere’s drumming drew Cyra back into her mind as she watched the dancing guests around her.
It had been four nights since she had dreamed of the raven and the wolf, and she had almost forgotten about the dream - well, this is, until she saw the icy stare of Eres at dinner and during breakfast. The dark-skinned Grand Duke and High Prince were inseparable during that time, and Cyra could not demand that she forgo spending time with Halewijn and Eres over a dream. No, that would be a mistake. Now was not the time to pull away from him, especially since she would spend only six more days with her family before traveling to the High Court to be presented as Hal’s fiance and the future High Princess.
Cyra had to seem like she was one with Halewijn, which she was, in everything except body and soul. But in their time together, they had grown fond of each other, and she could admit to Mirabel - and only Mirabel - that her feelings for Halewijn had grown past friendliness. Alorha and Wyndemere knew that she had become accustomed to the High Prince’s public displays of affection, but if they suspected that she was beginning to love him, they hadn’t said anything to indicate so. She preferred it that way, letting her closest confidantes speculate while she sat beside the High Prince.
Tonight, it seemed that Halewijn had a little too much to drink with the Grand Duke, who sat across from him as they debated the importance of learning how to play an instrument as a youth.
“I think it’s important to remember,” Eres began, dragging out the “r,” “that you and your mother were proponents of learning music and how to sing. How is that any different than learning how to play an instrument?”
“You...” Halewijn hiccuped, covering his mouth. “Your voice isn’t an instrument.”
“I would beg to differ!” As the two men continued with their debate, Cyra snuck a glance at Idria, who was already staring. She rolled her eyes, shaking her head at the conversation before standing.
“I need some air,” Idria exhaled, and Cyra took this as her cue to follow. The two women walked silently to the open garden, where a few people stood around and made conversation, but no one bothered to look their way. When they finally made it to a quiet spot in the garden, Idria sat on a bench and sighed. “Have you ever been bored with all of the pageantry and extra duties of being royal?” Cyra took her place next to the Grand Duchess and nodded.
“Quite often, I find myself in a place like this.”
“Halewijn told me that was how you two met.”
Cyra remembered that night with a fondness, realizing life had changed so much in such a short amount of time. She looked down at her tan fingers. “That’s correct.”
“Halewijn also divulged that you two would be visiting Omar and having your wedding at the High Court.”
“Yes,” Cyra breathed, feeling her corset constrict at the thought. Idria spat on the ground, her top lip curled up in disgust.
“That man can rot in the Underworld for all I care. Why did he even show up to your engagement party?”
“My family invited him. It was an honest mistake.”
“Mistake? Nothing Omar ever does is a mistake. He’s very purposeful and doesn’t allow for those kinds of things in life; he’s like my own father - greedy, corrupted, and immoral. I’m so glad I got away from him.”
“Is that why you married Eres?”
“No, Eres and I met after that.”
“Oh, how did you meet?”
“We met when I went on trial,” Idria answered cryptically, lacing her fingers together.
“For running away from your father?” The idea seemed absurd, but Cyra realized that the way Skaruska worked was wildly different from Oskurga. Anything was possible.
“Oh, no, no, no.” Idria laughed jovially, tossing her blonde hair back. “No, I was on trial for murdering my father.” Cyra felt the shock in her soul. This little woman had murdered her father, stood trial for it, and... been acquitted?
“So...” She started, hoping to lead the woman into an explanation.
“Eres came to me when I was serving my four-year sentence. As mannerless as he was, my abusive father still held a position on the King’s Council, and Eres wanted to know why I’d cut off my source of power and wealth. I told him my story slowly, and we built a rapport over the years. The day they released me, he proposed.” Idria shrugged. “And that’s that.”
“No wonder you all are so close.”
“But what about you? You and Halewijn must be conspiring to take down Omar one way or another. I’m sure high treason isn’t an ideal way, but it’s the most effective way to rid the world of one more tyrannical bastard.” Cyra swallowed hard, thinking of the dagger hidden in the space between the mattress and bed frame. She had no intention of using it to murder, but if the time came, she would need to make a choice unhindered by the opinions of those around her.
“If he has a plan, he hasn’t told me yet. I’m sure he’s going to do something about the issue, though.” She lied, trying to be nonchalant. Cyra had no plans to betray Halewijn or their pact, despite the closeness of their little group. One wrong move and Cyra could end up without a husband, without a future, or worse: without a head.
“What are you two doing out here?” The sound of the approaching men made Cyra and Idria stiffen at the same time. Halewijn and Eres came staggering into the garden, lazy smiles painted on their faces as they made their way toward the women. Cyra felt the change in Idria instantly; her serious demeanor changed into an excited and yet, concerned wife. An ignorant wife. How had she not seen through Idria’s original act? “Are you conspiring and conniving?”
“Eres,” Idria stood, grasping her husband’s shoulders playfully. “You always drink too much at these functions! We should go off to bed.” Idria came back to Cyra and touched her arm tenderly. “Murder, while a good escape, isn’t always free of its consequences. Good night, Princess.” Idria switched on her bubbly attitude once more, bidding Halewijn a good night and dragging Eres off to their chambers.
Halewijn wandered over to Cyra, his hands behind his back like a pensive monk, measuring his steps carefully. As he sat down next to her, Hal shifted closer and slung his arm around the Princess with confidence. “I want our life to be like this. There is nothing I want more than the peacefulness of this moment to last forever.” He sighed, looking up at the star-covered sky with an earnest wistfulness. Cyra hoped for the same thing but wasn’t disillusioned enough to realize that something terrible was coming, and it wouldn’t be long before they had to endure one more trial. The only thing was... she wasn’t sure if they would both make it out alive.
It was Cyra’s turn to drag the drunken High Prince up the stairs, his eyelids barely open wide enough for him to see where he should place his feet. Despite his stature, he felt lighter than she had expected, his left arm draped around her shoulders. Alorha and Wyndemere were nowhere to be found, and she had spied Mirabel in the lap of some unwed Lord; therefore, Cyra was on her own.
“You’re such a sweet Princess to drag me up the stairs and to my room.” Hal hiccuped. “How about we go to your room instead?” Cyra bit back a laugh and groaned,
“No, High Prince. While I would greatly enjoy the dalliances you suggest, I must decline your offer, for you are far too drunk for my taste.” Sarcasm laced her comments, but she was sure Halewijn couldn’t pick up on it.
“Your taste...” He drawled, barely lifting his right foot as they made their way to his door. Cyra used her elbow to open the wooden door, letting it fall open before she and the High Prince tried to squeeze past the door frame. The effort was enough for the two of them, and Cyra laid Halewijn out on his bed. Stooping low, she pulled his shoes off and tossed them to the floor before stripping him of his jacket and waistcoat with ease. “You’re undressing me now?” Halewijn asked, his lips spreading into a suggestive grin. “You want me.” Cyra shook her head, dismissing his remarks as a blush crept up her neck and up to her ear-tips.
“I want you to go to sleep.”
“As you command, my love.” Halewijn fell back on the pillows and curled up in a fetal position, hands tucked underneath the pillow. Cyra folded the covers around him, felt his forehead, and then pressed her lips to his cheek.
“Sleep well.” As she straightened up, Halewijn’s hand snaked out from underneath the pillow and grabbed hers.
“You remind me... of my mother.” He breathed, eyes still closed. “That’s... one reason why I love you.” Hal brought her hand to his lips and kissed it gently. “I cannot wait until... you’re my... wife...” His hand slackened in hers, and Cyra smiled at the sleeping man, holding her kissed hand in the un-kissed one like a fragile treasure.