Ambassadors & Turncoats
The taste of bile in Cyra’s mouth slowly brought her back to the present moment, the terrors ending mid-scene. Coming-to in the dimly lit room was difficult as she attempted to come to a seated position on the floor. Alorha and Wyndemere perked up at the sight of her sitting up slowly, and in an instant, she felt the gentle support of two firm hands. When Cyra realized it was Hal, she let her shoulders slump a little and exhaled, sighing in the moment of peace.
“How do you feel?”
The question didn’t translate well in her brain as she tried to distinguish her terrors from reality, slowly regaining her train of coherent and rational thought. Alorha didn’t repeat his question and instead looked to Halewijn, who smoothed a hand down her back. Cyra shivered at the touch, pulling her knees into her chest underneath the blue dress and resting a cheek on her kneecaps. As Cyra inhaled the smells around the room, no one spoke; they allowed themselves a few much-needed moments of silence. Halewijn was the first to voice his thoughts when the moment was over.
“The feast has been canceled for the night.” Cyra looked up at him in confusion, then her face smoothed out into understanding just as quickly.
“It’s my fault, isn’t it?” No one said anything. “I’m so sorry, Halewijn. This was an opportunity for you to prove to your father that-”
“No. This was the perfect opportunity for us to gather our bearings and prepare for the upcoming month. If these terrors are happening more often, then we need to come up with a plan.” Hal looked at Mirabel, who had been eerily silent the entire time. “Mirabel, I’m going to need your help with this. You know everything and everyone, and that will come in handy very soon.”
The next morning, the group traveled down the stairs, having come up with two plans: one for the terrors and another for their survival. Wyndemere and Alorha departed from the other three at the bottom of the staircase, meeting with the other members of the Eastern Royal Guard before breakfast. Cyra, Halewijn, and Mirabel took a different route, heading straight for the dining hall. When they passed the doors to the kitchen, Mirabel went inside, cheerfully greeting and introducing herself to the staff within.
Finally, Halewijn and Cyra found themselves in the dining hall, taking their places in pre-arranged seats across from each other. The dining hall - a relic from the kings of old - was covered in large portraits of former High Kings, High Queens, and their families. The light blue paint behind the images reminded Cyra of the sky, despite it being a deep grey outside, and the room boasted four large windows, each covered in beautiful, gold curtains. This visage was a stark contrast to the feeling Cyra felt when at the High Court, which felt stifling and oppressive. But the dining room was calming and ornate, a reprieve from the usually overbearing barn red and solid gold visage of the High Court.
The table was covered in a white tablecloth, and eight white suede seats were pushed in around the long table. A lavish chair sat at the head of the table, obviously for Omar, but he was nowhere to be found. Servants swooped in with meats and bread anyway, allowing Halewijn and Cyra to begin eating off of golden plates before their host arrived. While they ate, Cyra went over the plan in her mind again.
Halewijn had orchestrated the entire thing, with short additions from the twins at times. “We should gather support from the other four kingdoms for my claim to the throne when the time comes.”
“The Southern Court will be quick to support, as well as the Eastern Court,” Cyra interjected, knowing that any challenge by a legitimate and rightful heir would be immediately bolstered by the two kingdoms.
“What about the North and the West?” Halewijn thought aloud, rubbing his face.
“The Western kingdom seems to adore you, but the idea of you as a ruler might be difficult for them to grasp. It would take some time to convince them of your abilities. The North,” Cyra paused, looking at Wyndemere with a grimace, who returned her look immediately. “The North might not be so easy.”
“Their allegiance lies with whoever is in power.” Wyndemere clarified. “I am not familiar with any of the royalty there, but you will find the majority of difficulty with the North when claiming the throne.”
“Can we inquire about an ambassador?” Alorha butted in, but Wyndemere shook his head, tendrils of white hair following the motion.
“They don’t have one. We’d have to speak to either the Northern Royal Guard or the King and Queen themselves.” At this, Halewijn sighed, folding himself onto the bed slowly.
“Then this is what we will do: Wyndemere, the High Court Guard, while efficient and quick to act, is not entirely loyal. Find the gap in their ranks. When the Northern Court arrives for the wedding, you speak to Royal Guards on our behalf. Alorha, you’re to support your brother by eliminating any threat to those who might be a turncoat.” The twins nodded, Alorha seeming more excited to eliminate than anything else.
“Mirabel, you are the most congenial and knowledgable person among us. Your task to find out anything and everything you can. I don’t care which court it’s about; if it will help or hurt our cause? You’re to report back to us.” Halewijn looked to Cyra, taking her hand in his gently. “Cyra and I will be working the High Court. That means we will be doing our best to keep you three out of harm’s way as we get ready for our nuptials and Ostara. We will meet here and in my chambers for the time being, should something arise or information get back to any of you.” Everyone nodded their understanding, then Mirabel piped up.
“It’s my understanding that we would be… wise… to find other ways to get under Omar’s skin. Less overt ways. I will make sure we use this advice to our advantage.” Halewijn cracked a small smile then chuckled at the lady-in-waiting.
But now, as Cyra sat with Halewijn in the dining room, it seemed like Omar was not going to join them, thus putting that branch of the plan in a lurch. Immediately after Cyra considered this, the back doors to the dining hall swung open, and Omar walked through them, apparently nursing a headache by rubbing his temples with his fingers.
“Good morning, your Majesty,” Halewijn spoke, clearing his mouth before addressing his father.
“Good morning, Halewijn; Cyra.” Omar politely nodded to the couple, sighing as he sat in the gold and white chair. His plain white shirt and brown pants were unusually plain, but if he were not feeling well, it made sense that he would not wear his finery. “Have you recovered from your fever, daughter?” The tone in which Omar addressed Cyra - like they were familiar and friendly with each other - made her stomach sour, but she placed a sickly sweet smile on her face.
“Yes, my lady-in-waiting nursed me back to health.”
“That is very good to hear.” Omar leaned forward to take a duck egg and two slices of bread, slapping them on his place unceremoniously. “Tonight should be exciting for you both. Originally, I was unable to acquire a guest that would not have arrived on time. But the benefit of delaying the feast is that they will be here to entertain.”
“And which guest is that?” Halewijn asked innocently, sitting back slightly.
“Do you know Armantha?” The name struck no chords with Halewijn, but Cyra’s eyes flicked to his face anyway. She knew who Armantha was, and the sound of her name did not put her at ease.
“I’m afraid I do not,” Hal grumbled.
“I know her quite well,” Cyra interjected, and Omar looked to her with a knowing smile.
“She will be attending tonight.”
“How exciting,” Cyra mumbled, disinterested. It took all the strength she had not to stand and storm off but continue to eat instead. The thought of the whore of the Northern Court anywhere near the celebrations enraged the Princess, but she kept it hidden. No one would realize how much Armantha and Cyra hated each other until they reunited that evening.
After a relatively uneventful breakfast, Cyra returned to her room alone, leaving Halewijn to attend to the news from Alorha and Wyndemere. “Princess,” Mirabel began when she entered, but Cyra cut her off with a hand.
“I already know. Armantha will be here tonight.” Mirabel scowled with her mistress, looking into the closet for something - anything - that would rival the possible outfit Armantha would put together.
“Does she have any decency parading about like she’s the Queen of the North? Don’t mistresses of the King have a place?”
“Not when the King treats his mistress like the sun and moon set on her ass.” Her lady-in-waiting barked out a laugh, bracing herself on the wardrobe doors. “What about the King and Queen? Will they be here tonight?”
“They’re sending her as their ambassador.” Cyra turned to the maid slowly, incredulous.
“No.” She breathed.
“Yes. Alorha and Wyndemere are briefing Halewijn on the implications of this right now.”
“She’s close to Omar as well. We could lose the entire North if we don’t - If Halewijn doesn’t -” Mirabel eyed Cyra carefully, daring her to speak the consequences of the choices Armantha could give to the High Prince. “One ill word from her, and we’re doomed.”