A Tale of Crowns and Stars

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Carriages & Towers

As inviting as it seemed, the cushioned carriage now felt like a cage as Cyra and Mirabel stepped inside. The sinking feeling in her stomach wouldn’t go away, growing worse with each passing second as the servants packed her luggage away.

Waking up in Halewijn’s arms had been peaceful, the images of the night before replaying in her mind as the warm High Prince held her close. The only thing that propelled her out of bed was the sound of Mirabel nearly kicking down the door, barging into the room with little formality.

“High Prince! Have you seen--” Cyra sat up, still naked with her curly hair sticking out at all angles. “I knew it.” Mirabel squinted her eyes at the two, placing her hands on her hips. “Too eager to wait, huh?” Halewijn cracked open an eye and rolled it, making Cyra laugh heartily. Then she departed his side to prepare for their trip to the High Court.

Now Cyra sat in the seats, worried for herself and her fiance, who hugged Aethelwulf and Smyrna as he came out of the palace. Eres and Idria bid them goodbye earlier, departing in their own carriage with promises of attending the wedding in a few months. Her mother and father would remain at the Southern Court for a few days before traveling back home until the week of the wedding, joined by Eres and Idria.

Halewijn jogged down the steps and approached the carriage, dressed in his most delicate gold silk tunic and coat. The High Prince wore black Persian boots with intricate golden laurels stitched into them, but the grandeur of his attire didn’t strike Cyra as much as the expression of deep thought on his face. The Princess pushed open the window, and Hal smiled up at her, shaking off the thoughts in his head.

“We will be ahead of you.” He stated simply, nodding toward Wyndemere and Alorha. “Don’t worry.” The advice fell on deaf ears, though, as Cyra couldn’t stop thinking about all of the horrible things that might befall them at the High Court. As if Hal could read her mind, he stretched a hand up to her face and whispered, “Don’t fret, my love. I will never leave your side.” Hal took Cyra’s hand and kissed it firmly. “I love you.”

“I love you, too,” Cyra replied, and Halewijn grinned again before stepping down and out of sight.

Nine hours.

That was how long Cyra had before she would meet Omar again.

Nine hours to become acquainted with the thought of shoving the dagger into his chest if need be.

Nine hours to plan her future should she commit High Treason.

She stayed awake the entire time, ignoring the landscape passing by, ignoring the songs of the men riding horses up ahead, ignoring the laughter and chatter… Only thinking about Omar’s face and his expression if she had to murder him. How would Halewijn react? The thought came to her suddenly, like a slap in the face from an unseen hand.

How would he react if she swept his plan out from underneath him and committed a crime against his flesh and blood? Would Halewijn demand a divorce due to her secrecy? Or would he command that she pay the price for crimes with her own life upon receiving the crown? Cyra’s thoughts swirled around in her head like tornados; she was so deep in her own mind that she didn’t notice when the horses stopped; when Halewijn dismounted - tossing a playful insult to Alorha - or when he opened the door and called her name jovially and when Mirabel echoed him.

It was only when Hal grabbed her wrist that she realized he had been standing there, speaking in an increasingly worried tone. When Cyra turned to look into his eyes, she noticed the worry and concern - and another emotion she couldn’t quite identify - etched into the golden orbs. “Mirabel, step out.” The lady hurried to follow the High Prince’s commands, and he climbed into the carriage, shutting the metal door behind him. “Talk to me.”

The words in Cyra’s head came out in a flurry of shaking and gasps. She told him what she worried about, how she felt, and almost told him about the dagger. But Cyra caught herself, instead choosing to bite her cheek and lace her fingers together. That unreadable emotion came out fully, turning from a masked feeling to a shaky sigh and clasped hands. Fear.

“I need you to trust me,” Halewijn pressed, taking his time with the words. “I have so many things planned, so many ways for us to survive this trip… but I need you to trust me.”

“How?” Cyra choked out, tears rolling down her cheeks. “I’ve never trusted anyone but myself.”

“Do you really trust yourself?” Cyra flinched. “Cyra, in all of the months I’ve known you, there’s one thing I’ve picked up - among others: you’ve projected your mistrust onto me twice. You didn’t trust me because you don’t trust my father; you didn’t trust me when I first said I loved you because you don’t trust yourself in love.” The observations cut deep, and Cyra shrunk back from him a little, frowning. “Think, Princess. When have I ever done anything to cause you to mistrust me?” Cyra opened her mouth, then closed it, then opened it again, finally closing it when she found there was no argument to stand on.

The tears began anew.

Halewijn moved next to her, placing his arms around her in a tight embrace. “My love, your fear is valid. But override your fear and remember I will not let anything - or anyone - hurt you. You have my honor as my oath.”

The windowpane felt warmer when they arrived in the High Court’s territory. The sun beat down on the land, causing it to dry up in places and other areas to become lush and fertile with crops that adhere to the unrelenting sun.

As a child, Cyra used to dream about the High Court often, many of them taking place in the lush fields of plenty - but after Omar’s attack, she only dreamed of the barren lands that produced nothing but sand and glass. The shattering of her dreams drove her to the broken shards of the wastelands; fate sealed with the Bedouins, who roamed the landscape as glorified travelers. In Cyra’s dreams, she was neither a Bedouin nor a Princess. She had become an outcast, unfit for any comforts in life except to wander the earth over and over. Such was her lot.

The reality did not compare to the dream, however. The opposition of the two images did little to ease Cyra’s nerves as she returned as the fiance of a different Prince, one who walked the same path in her dreams, the same broken path she dreamt would be hers. Would she make it out alive this time? The question rested in her mind all the way up to the High Court itself, and Cyra’s stomach lurched at the sight of the massive tower looming in the distance.

The Golden Tower remained the High Court hallmark since its construction in the time of Duchaine the Third. It was notorious for housing future royalty before their coronations, keeping current royalty safe during an invasion, and imprisoning the crown’s enemies. Cra could find herself in any of those situations - either way, it seemed that the Golden Tower called her name loud enough for all to hear, announcing her destiny.

The clatter of hooves on cobblestones echoed in her ears, the sound of impending doom ringing endlessly. Any minute and they would slow to a stop in front of the fortress gate, letting the drawbridge creak down into its horizontal position before proceeding. But another sound accompanied the cobblestone clacking. The shrill clang of tambourines, a fiddle, perhaps even trumpets played on in the distance, and Cyra could feel the drumbeats rattling the window pane with her fingertips.

“Do you hear that?” Mirabel wondered, craning her head to the side - inadvertently exposing a hickey that was undoubtedly from the Lord she spent her time with during Yul. Cyra nodded, pushing the window open as the din grew louder. The cacophony of music was organized, joyful, and quite startling to hear in a place where Cyra only had terrible memories.

When they began to pass by the singing townsfolk, Cyra watched as young women tossed flower petals from high windows, children tossed dried corn into the air, and people danced in the streets. Confusion laced her features as villagers reached out to brush the sides of the horses and carriage with reverence, holding their hands close to them once they brushed their fingertips along the surfaces. Without warning, the carriage lurched to a stop, and Cyra leaned out to look ahead.

She couldn’t see much beyond the stopped horses, but it was apparent that they were not at the palace gates yet. They sat in the middle of the town, flanked on either side by tall buildings, cheers from the gathered crowd, and excited singing from the rest. An older woman who leaned on a cane came close to Cyra from the sidewalk and grasped her hand. When her wrinkled hand touched Cyra’s, the Princess looked down to acknowledge the elder.

“What is everyone celebrating?” Cyra wondered, and the old woman cracked a smile, showing her missing teeth.

“It’s a celebration, dear one.” The woman’s voice was clear despite the noise, and her voice unwavering, but a tear dropped from her right eye. “The return of our Prince has been highly anticipated for years now. And it’s all thanks to you.”

“Thank his gods,” Cyra protested, frowning deeply. “I don’t think I am--”

“That’s the problem with you damned mortals,” The woman snapped, suddenly sounding much younger than she had a moment before. “You overthink.” Before Cyra could note her change in vocal tone - or the fact that she said ‘you mortals’- the elder produced a white rose from her pocket. “A gift.” She took it, and the women hobbled off into the crowd, disappearing as fast as she appeared.

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