A Tale of Crowns and Stars

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Kingdoms and Marriage

The folds of Cyra’s dress concealed her shaking hands as she briskly walked out of the throne room, letting her mother and father speak about the proposal alone. Halewijn followed behind her, rushing to her side when the doors to the room closed.

“Your Highness,” He began, but she wouldn’t turn to meet him. “Your Highness.” He repeated earnestly. Cyra took the opportunity to stop, fix her face, and turn about. She had to know.

“You came here to make a fool of yourself, didn’t you?” The Princess questioned, recalling their previous conversation.

“What do you mean?”

“In the garden, I spoke to you of engagements and marriage. Did you not hear what I said?” Halewijn looked in her eyes, the intensity returning.

“I heard every word.” His voice dropped an octave, almost a low growl.

“Did you not believe me, then?” Cyra placed her hands on her hips to steady the shaking in her fingers, hoping he wouldn’t mistake the gesture for playfulness.

“I believed you. That’s why I am here.” A realization dawned on her, revealing something she could not ignore. But Halewijn spoke it before she could. “You want to run your country well, and I admire that about you. You are unattached; so am I. I have a kingdom I will run soon enough. Cyra, this is purely for political purposes.” His statements were correct. Two very powerful and unattached royals with similar goals, united under one crown... Political paradise.

“You concealed your identity from me.” She hissed back, furious. “Had you told me that you were the son of Omar, I would’ve -”

“I am not in any way like that man.” That man... Cyra shrunk back at the words, examining his face for any sign of falsehood. “Whatever affliction he bestowed upon you and your family... I had no part in.” The forcefulness of his speech partially convinced her of his innocence. He drew closer, holding a hand out as if to touch her arm. “I do not hold any ill will against you. You could say that by proposing this merging, I am looking out for you in ways you could not imagine.”

No doubt her parents were coming to the same conclusions inside the throne room. Slowly, he took her shaking hand and smiled at her warmly. “Who knows,” he began, bringing her fingers up to his lips and kissing them. “You might even fall in love with me.”

“He said that?!” The brush Mirabel held in her hand dropped to the carpet, her mouth agape.

“He did.” The lady slowly stooped down to pick it up, then murmured,

“What did you say?”

“I snatched my hand away and walked off to find you.” The lady-in-waiting tossed her head back and laughed, hands at her chest.

“His shock must’ve been visible!” Mirabel cackled, wiping tears from her eyes. “My gods, he might not be so charming at dinner...” Cyra turned from her desk to face the woman.

“Dinner?” It was her understanding that there was no welcome for him in the palace; he was simply passing through.

“He’s staying in the palace while he remains in the East; at the behest of the Queen.”

“Here?” Cyra forced herself to inhale deeply. The thought of Halewijn staying in the palace for any amount of time made her corset feel tight. Handsome as he may be, he was not above being anything less than opportunistic. Mirabel sensed the discomfort radiating from her mistress as she stood next to her. Cyra’s gaze dropped to the book on the table, it’s words becoming blurry and shapeless.

“Your Highness... You should tell someone about what happened with High King Omar. It might relieve you of your potential engagement to his son.”

“No.” Cyra snapped, looking out of the window suddenly. She could not cry, not in front of anyone. The memories of that night bothered her, but not to the point of tears. “There’s no use. It happened too long ago.” The lie hung between them - it had only been two years - but it did not matter. Neither of them would do anything. Mirabel wouldn’t speak without Cyra’s permission, and Cyra wouldn’t tell another living soul... ever. The incurable silence was broken by the opening of the chamber door. Surta walked in - again, without knocking - and curtsied lightly.

“Your Highness, the High Prince.”

Cyra stood suddenly, knocking the table over, and with it, the ink and quill. Mirabel hurried to tidy the mess, allowing Cyra to watch Halewijn stroll in boldly.

“These are my chambers, High Prince. You should not be on this side of the hall.”

“I came only to bring you what is yours.” He had a youth deposit a chest on her floor and open it. Inside lay the jeweled cylinders, and she took her time walking over to the opened box. Hal held his hand out in permission to take one, and she did, screwing open one end.

Inside sat a parchment, rolled up neatly. She pulled it out and opened it, letting the end fall against her skirts. She wasn’t three sentences in when she realized what it was.

“These are deeds to land in the South...” Cyra murmured, confused.

“Not only that.” Halewijn picked up another cylinder, unscrewing it. He dumped out a vial of oil, the scent hitting her nostrils immediately. “Jasmin fragrance.” Another cylinder. “Frankincense.” Five to go. “Land in the West.” Four. “The title to four castles in the same region.” Three. “A host of sentries, each named here, to be assigned to you upon our departure.” Two. “A ruby anklet from the city of Myrrhna.” One.

“Stop!” Cyra yelled, and Hal held the last cylinder in his hands, the lid barely touched. “Stop...” Overwhelmed, she didn’t want to know what the final gift was. “Why all of this?” She pleaded, turmoil racking her skull. “You don’t need to flatter me with anything. Some women will marry you for less.”

“You are not the kind of partner that deserves any less than this.”

“Why me?” Halewijn looked around him, sensing the stares of the other women. Cyra waved Surta and Mirabel off, who pouted but promised to be posted at the door if something were to go wrong. When the door clicked shut, Halewijn turned to her.

“My father has wronged your family in some way.”

“Who has he not abused on his rise to power?”

“No, worse than that. Some way, a way you know of. Personally.” Halewijn gripped her shoulders, tightly enough to make her gasp, but not enough to hurt her. “I need to right this wrong.”

“Does your father send his sons to do his dirty work?” Cyra griped, staring at Halewijn intensely.

“The gods sent me here. I never knew of you until we came across each other in the garden. But then I knew that they had sent you to me for a reason.”

“Then why did the gods not tell me?"

“You came to the party, didn’t you? Despite not wanting to go...?”

“I went for my lady-in-waiting’s enjoyment. Not for any other reason.” Halewijn barked a laugh, letting go of her shoulders.

“And who influenced your lady to go?” Cyra released her brows from their frown. Mirabel didn’t really even like parties, come to think of it. She chose her as her lady-in-waiting over her sisters because of that fact... Cyra scowled at him again anyway.

“She is a being of free will and is not influenced by some movement of... beings above or below.” Halewijn lifted his eyebrows at her curt dismissal of the gods, her gods, and his gods. “Do you speak to them yourself? Are you a High Priest as well?” The shadow that clouded Halewijn’s expression made Cyra step back, his golden eyes darkening ever so slightly.

“I was discarded from my father’s court at the age of ten due to my mother’s... death. On the way to the North, I found the gods while sitting under a palm tree in the desert. I am no High Priest, but I know the gods, and they know me.” With that, he gently sat the final scroll in her hand and exited quietly, sealing his lips.

Cyra took her dinner in her room, allowing herself to avoid Halewijn for a night. When she heard a knock on her door, she knew it wasn’t the ladies but one of her parents.

“It’s open.” She called out, and the door squeaked open slowly. Her mother floated in, her golden goddess-like face framed by a few curls that stuck out of her braid. The houppelande she wore drug across the floor, sweeping the carpet with its fur. The doors shut again, leaving the velvet-clad queen and her daughter alone.

“Prince Halewijn wants your hand in marriage.” The Queen reiterated, clasping her hands together. “But you must agree to it for anything to go forward.” Cyra set aside her drinking glass full of water, blinking at her mother.

“Perhaps if the High Prince had bothered to ask me before proposing in front of you, he might have saved himself some embarrassment. I will not marry him.”

“You will.” Her mother bit out before sighing deeply. “You will, or I will forge your signature on the marriage certificate myself.” Horror shot through Cyra’s veins as she realized her mother was giving her no option.

“Mother... you wouldn’t dare--”

“Cyra, our empire is weakening. When Halewijn becomes High King, you will need to bolster our court with everything you have, or it will collapse under you.” The court was weakening?

“But, mother --”

“You will marry him in the springtime around Ostara.” Cyra stood in outrage, the holiday her favorite among the significant eight.

“You would choose Ostara for my wedding day?” She spat. “Do you want me to be miserable?!” The slap that came after was not entirely unexpected.

“The gods have smiled upon you in finding you a worthy match, and this is how you thank them? Cyra, if a High Prince had come to seek my hand in marriage, I would’ve stripped naked in the temple and danced until I could no longer feel my feet!” Her mother’s temper subsided, and she exhaled, rubbing the bridge of her nose with her fingers. “You have been blessed, daughter. More than you - or I - possibly realize.” Cyra gripped her stinging cheek silently as her mother exited. Before the door closed, the Queen whispered, “I will see you tomorrow at breakfast.” Cyra felt her knees give way once the door shut, her strength sapped from her bones.

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