A Tale of Crowns and Stars

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Bridges & Rooms

The flower now sat in her lap, its pale petals reflecting the sunlight. Mirabel didn’t seem to notice the interaction between the woman and Cyra, or if she did, didn’t seem to care. Her mind was probably still on the Lord she left behind, and that was alright. The less her lady focused on the upcoming wedding, the better.

By the time they arrived at the palace, the sounds of celebrating had not died down at all. The drawbridge creaked down slowly as guards shouted commands at each other, and when they began their trek across the wooden bridge, Cyra felt her insides constrict again. It was a wonder she hadn’t gotten sick yet, but Cyra knew it was still a possibility. Mirabel’s spine stiffened as they came closer to the white brick palace, her memories of the terrifying Yul year flooding back to her. The rhythmic crunching of the gravel beneath the carriage and lush greenery surrounding them did little to assuage their nerves. Everyone felt on edge; that much was evident.

The carriage halted in the courtyard, and Cyra waited as sounds of boots in the gravel echoed around her. She expected Halewin to open her door, but no one came. The palace’s blue and white doors swung open, and two footmen - dressed in yellow and red - came forward to assist instead. A tanned youth swung open the door, refusing to look at Cyra as she stepped out of the carriage unassisted. She stood in the courtyard alone, Mirabel descending after and standing behind her. Halewijn appeared a moment later, shaking petals out of his hair. Chains of flowers hung around his neck, and a white rose rested in his hand before he placed it in his pocket, almost identical to the one Cyra had in her left hand. The gathered coalition waited in the courtyard, the silence in the air almost stifling.

After what felt like an hour later, a fanfare began, two trumpeters playing with precision as Omar appeared. He swept out of the palace, wearing a golden shirt and black pants. His long brown hair curled at his shoulders, and Omar allowed those below him to observe his king-like stature. Halewijn shifted closer to Cyra, slightly adjusting his shoulders to broaden his stance.

Omar smiled widely, spreading his hands without words. He shook his head once, the jewels on his golden crown tossing colored light around, then descending the steps in a jog. “I am glad you two made it safely!” The irony of the observation was not lost on the two, who half-smiled simultaneously. “I’ve prepared rooms for you and a generous feast for tonight to welcome you home, Halewijn. I am sure you will be pleased.” The closer the High King got to the couple, the closer Cyra inched to Halewijn, her hand brushing his. Halewijn instinctively gripped it, gently squeezing it as a reminder that he would not let anyone hurt her.

Omar placed a hand on Halewijn’s shoulder, leaning in to whisper something. Halewijn replied only with a hum of acknowledgment, and Omar took a step back, examining his son one more time. “If only your mother could see you now...” It was Cyra’s turn to squeeze Halewijn’s hand, hoping her reminder of affection eased his anger.

“I am sure she would be very thankful to see that I am still alive." The still air around the two men felt frozen in the heat of the day. Halewijn and Omar did another delicate dance around each other with their words, but this time, none of it was aimed at Cyra. Omar blinked, then squinted his golden eyes sharply.

“You still have her tongue and wit, too.” Mirabel cleared her throat behind the group, moving aside as Alorha and Wyndemere edged nearer to them with hands full of luggage. Cyra knew this “hands full of luggage” trick; it was only a ploy to get as close as possible to her should anything happen. “Let us go inside; your footmen seem to be eager to unload and unpack.”

Cyra almost didn’t catch it, but when Omar turned away, Alorha muttered, “Murderous filth” and Wyndemere hissed, “Tyrant.” She expected nothing less from the guards and nothing more from anyone who heard them and said nothing in response.

Gold and red adorned every surface in the High Court.

The Grand Hall had been renovated since Cyra had been there last, as evidenced by a large glass chandelier hanging between two large spiral staircases. The last time she stood in the Grand Hall, there had been a large candle chandelier. The opulence of the High Court was not lost on her as she touched the gilded staircase and white marble steps.

“Things have changed since you two were last here,” Omar mentioned as he climbed the steps confidently. “I’ve redone every room in the palace and added three solariums, which I’m sure you will enjoy, Princess.” Cyra’s skin crawled when he addressed her, her hands clenching automatically. She was almost halfway up the staircase when she noticed Halewijn had not followed her, instead opting to stand in the foyer.

“Where are your guest residences?” Halewijn snapped at his father.

“There are guest rooms on the second floor,” Omar replied coolly.

“No. Where are your guest homes? Somewhere behind the palace?” The tone in Halewijn’s voice betrayed his disgust for the current situation. Cyra’s eyes flicked between the pair as she realized - yet again - she was between the two men, and instinctively, she took a few steps down, intending on rejoining Hal.

“I no longer have guest homes. I’ve incorporated them into the palace to make room for the landscaping.” Halewijn clenched his jaw, the muscle there bulging, before climbing the stairs.

“Then how will we host the hundreds who are coming for the wedding?”

“There are more than enough rooms here for all of your guests, Halewijn. There is no need to worry.”

“I will reserve the right to request a room next to Cyra’s, then.” Omar chuckled, placing a hand on his hip.

“So eager to make the marriage official, aren’t you?” Cyra stifled a gasp, her cheeks beginning to burn. Halewijn made a noise in his throat, squinting his golden eyes at his older, longer-haired father. “Or have you done so already?” Omar let out a sharp laugh at the lack of a quick response, tossing his head back. “You don’t realize it now, my son, but you and I are more alike than you’d care to admit.”

Cyra stood by the door as Halewijn threw his previously packed clothes into drawers, fuming with anger.

“My love, he only wishes to drive you mad by making you angry. Do not give in to his irrational, impulsive behavior.” She advised but still remained a few feet away. Halewijn paused in his unpacking, breathing heavily, and the sun pin on his chest caught the light and then dropped into shadows as Hal’s chest rose and fell. “You are better than him in every way.” Cyra breathed, hoping some shred of her words would reach him. It must have worked because Hal let go of his breath, closed his eyes, and dropped his shoulders.

“I do not want to be like my father.” He moaned, placing his fingers on his temples. “Do you know what he said to me earlier?”

“What did he say?”

“He told me that you reminded him of my mother. I didn’t know what to say; any mention of her from his lips shocks me.” Cyra shifted on her feet uneasily. If she reminded Omar of his former wife, would he push her over the palace walls too? Halewijn must’ve considered the same thing because he immediately rushed over to her, taking her hands in his. “Fret not. Remember what I told you.” Cyra nodded, her curls falling forward as she dipped her head. Halewijn kissed both of her hands tenderly, then brushed Cyra’s hair behind her ear. Cyra looked away, if only because she felt a sliver of fear despite Halewijn’s words.

“I must go and prepare for the feast tonight. I will see you shortly.” Cyra pulled away, taking the dagger-shaped door handle in her hand and leaving quietly. It was only when she shut the door that Cyra realized the door handles were identical to the dagger she stashed away in her room.

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