Agendas & Truths
Trust no one. Everyone has an agenda.
The words in Cyra’s mind echoed relentlessly. She wove her way through the crowd gathered in the large outdoor space, the lanterns dimly lighting every attendee’s face, looking for Mirabel in the near darkness.
Trust no one.
In the forefront of her mind, she held the image of Armantha, her short pixie cut, and cat-like brown eyes never too far away; Cyra had to admit, she was afraid. Whether it was what Armantha could do or what she would do, Cyra couldn’t tell. But she did know the sharp-witted woman would drive a spear through her heart with words when she got the chance.
Music echoed in the courtyard, the skilled musicians playing a slow tune that the guests could talk over as they milled about. A few familiar faces jumped out at Cyra from the crowd: a pregnant Princess Odette, the friendly ambassador from the West, and Prince Avisi, but no Armantha. As the Princess passed by a group of chittering ladies-in-waiting, she picked up a thread of gossip:
"They say Armantha was apprehended an hour ago. She was smuggling in… unmentionables.” Cyra sighed, relaxing. So, Armantha wouldn’t make it after all. The relief caught her by surprise, draining her of her strength. Cyra sat in a chair off to the side of the party, exhaling deeply as she crossed her legs underneath the long royal blue and gold lace gown. Her brown hair, pinned up and out of her face, begged for release from the stabbing hairpins, but she wouldn’t undo her hair quite yet. Not until the dancing commenced.
A hush ran across the crowd, and Cyra turned to watch Omar descend down the steps, clothed in a long red coat. The tunic he wore underneath - which clung to his muscles like so long ago - was an off white color, and his brown Persian boots gleamed in the lantern light, freshly polished. The lack of fanfare was not unusual because tonight it would be reserved for Halewijn, who appeared moments later.
Cyra knew her place would be at his side when he finished walking down the portico steps, but the vision of the man she would be wed to took her breath away. Halewijn - clothed in white, gold, and red - stood at the top of the stairs, waiting for the fanfare to finish. His golden eyes roamed over the crowd, looking… searching, and when they landed upon Cyra, who sat in her chair still, his lips twitched up in a small smile before he began his descent. The High Prince’s golden crown caught the light, making something akin to a halo around his curly brown hair, and the golden necklace he wore boasted the three symbols of Oskurga: An odal, uruz, and ansur rune. Altogether, they represented the five courts’ heritage, power, and gods, something Halewijn knew all about and would protect during his potential reign as High King. The fact that he wore the necklace tonight meant Omar had given it to him, and this fact did not pass by Cyra lightly.
Cyra stood as Hal took his final steps down to the courtyard, joining him by looping her arm around his extended one. The crowd clapped for Halewijn happily, and he smiled, slightly bowing his head at the praise. A servant quickly offered the two drinks for the toast, and Omar stood beside them to deliver it.
“A toast to my son, who has returned with a kingdom in tow: his Eastern bride, Cyra. Let us drink to his health, their wealth, and the union between the two Courts. Skål!”
“Skål!” The crowd tossed their drinks back, as did Omar and Halewijn. Only Cyra tossed her mead behind her, landing in the courtyard’s grass, which, thankfully, no one noticed. When he finished, Halewijn pulled her close to him, leaning down for a passionate display of affection in front of the attendees. Cyra obliged, tasting the mead on his tongue as he kissed her deeply. From behind Hal, Cyra could hear Omar’s laughter and his notation of the High Prince’s fondness for her.
“I’ve never seen a couple more in love!” The crowd also echoed the sentiment, which played to Cyra and Hal’s advantage. They would make the night their second engagement party, drawing the attention of those who sought to view the couple as a pair of star-crossed lovers and not two kingdoms merging for political reasons. It was simple to play the tune of two lovers fated to meet, only to become the shining beacon of love in all of the land. The idea that her relationship would be held on a pedestal made Cyra sick, but the cause was more than worthy. If it meant she would assist in removing the throne from under Omar, she would be happy to put up the ruse for Halewijn.
He could have made you his political ally, but instead, he made you his political equal. The truth hit Cyra hard, knocking the wind out of her lungs.
“You could say that by proposing this merging, I am looking out for you in ways you could not imagine.” She remembered Hal’s words upon learning he had come to take her hand in marriage. When Cyra pulled away, she searched Hal’s eyes, holding his face close.
“My love,” He breathed, brushing her nose with his. “You’re thinking about something.”
“I am.” She replied, tracing a thumb across his bottom lip.
“What is it?” Hal wondered, frowning.
“I will tell you later. After the feast.”
The sounds of feasting and dancing enveloped the crowd of people, merriment and joy overwhelming those who partook in the party. Halewijn and Cyra found themselves on and off the dance floor, twirling about each other with semi-full bellies as the night drew on.
The lack of a particular presence made Cyra even looser, her movements like the women of the West: hips twisting sensually and her steps quick and light. Ever since Gunnar passed, she would’ve never imagined such a moment. The dancing, the gaiety, the outright joy… None of those things seemed possible to her a year ago. But now, in Halewijn’s arms, Cyra felt the absolute pleasure she had denied herself for so long. With every passing day, the joy grew, despite the circumstances she found herself in.
When she and Halewijn had found their feet worn out and exhausted, they retired to the tables to rest.
“You dance like you have never known a day of sorrow.” Halewijn commented, giving her a face-splitting grin.
“It is because of this sorrow that I dance so freely,” Cyra tossed back, smiling equally as wide. “When you have known great sadness, overwhelming joy is a welcome reprieve.” At this, Halewijn leaned forward to press a kiss to her cheek, eyes alight with a confident, loving glow.
“Armantha seems to have been caught up in other business.” Halewijn observed, looking over the crowd.
“She was apprehended, apparently, smuggling in illegal things.” Halewijn squinted his eyes at the revelation but said nothing further.
“I hope…” Halewijn’s voice faded out as his father approached, slightly tipsy from the mead but still steady on his feet.
“Son, you and your bride are the envy of the Court tonight.” Omar nodded at Cyra before sitting next to her. “You remind more than one person of Tamar and I.” Halewijn touched Cyra’s elbow at the mention of his mother, bringing her slightly closer to him while Omar tossed back another glass of mead. “I told them that I thought the same; Tamar would be so enthused to have such a beauty join her in our Court.” The grip on her elbow tightened, and Cyra clenched her jaw.
“I think my mother would also be enthused to realize that you’ve spared no time taking Cyra in.” The double meaning caught the High King off guard, and he shot a glare at Halewijn.
“Play the game, Halewijn, or you’ll lose more than a crown.” With this, the older man stood up and walked off, leaving Hal and Cyra alone once more. Cyra turned to Halewijn, who had paled a little.
“I forgot myself.” He explained, shaking his head and letting it hang low. “I forgot the plan for a moment.”
“He only brings your mother up to make you lose your footing.” Cyra reminded him, squeezing his hand gently. “You are still High Prince, despite this. Do not let him win inside your mind.”
“I echo the same for you, considering Armantha.” Cyra looked away, scanning the crowd again. Part of her wished the terrible woman would just show up so she could stop thinking about her. The other part of her knew if Armantha dared to show her ugly face at the feast, Cyra was unsure if she would physically accost her. “Who is she to you?” Hal wondered, scrunching his brows up in confusion.
“She’s no one and nobody.”
“But you dislike her?”
“What did she do to displease you, my love?” Cyra’s upper lip twitched up in a scowl.
“She was once betrothed to Markus, Gunnar’s older brother. We were friendly at one point, but when Markus died, we suspect that she was the one who orchestrated it all.” Halewijn raised a brow, a question on his lips.
“How could she have when Markus died fighting in the war?”
“She was the only one who knew where they were hiding out on the Southern border. Not even Gunnar had that information, and those two were incredibly close. I suspect she told Omar, who was hell-bent on wiping out the Southern lineage at that point. Wyndemere surmised this as well, but it’s never been confirmed.
“When Markus died, she disappeared, then reappeared in the North, far away from the South and in the one place that wouldn’t extradite her for possible treason against the Southern Court.” Hal nodded his understanding, and Cyra clenched her jaw again.
“I see why you and she would be at each other’s throats.”
“If she appears, Hal, it will be the first time I’ve seen her since Markus’s last days at the Southern Court.” Hal noted the anger flashing in Cyra’s eyes as she spoke. “Gods know what I will do to her when I meet her again.”
Cyra stared at her reflection in the mirror, taking down her bun from its perch on the back of her head, thus letting her curls fall down her back. Meanwhile, Mirabel hung her dress up in the wardrobe, letting the royal blue and gold frock return to its rightful place.
Halewijn entered into the room moments later, dressed in his red silk nightclothes, scanning the room once. “Mirabel.” The lady-in-waiting dipped a small curtsy before leaving the room, giving the couple the space they needed. Halewijn approached Cyra quietly before kneeling on the floor and taking her left foot in his hand.
“You said you had something to tell me after the feast.” Cyra looked down at the High Prince, who kneaded her foot in his hands thoughtfully.
“I was thinking…” The words formulated slowly in her mind, even slower in her mouth. “You and I could’ve been political allies. There was no reason for you to propose marriage. But… you did. And by doing so, we’ve effectively become political equals.”
“Is there something wrong with that?” He mused, concerned.
“No, no.” Cyra placed her cheek on her propped up fist, still looking down at the High Prince who massaged her foot. “It’s just… you didn’t have to do that.”
“Why, then?” Halewijn met her eyes, an innocent expression crossing his features.
“I think we’ve had this conversation bef-”
“You mean to say you wanted to fall in love, and that’s it?” Hal’s hands stilled on her foot, slowly sliding up to her kneecap underneath the long nightgown.
“What if that wasn’t it? What would you do?”
“I would want to know the truth.” Halewijn smiled at her, cupping her left thigh in his hands.
“I want all of you, not just your political side. I’m a selfish man, and I want all of you for myself, Cyra.” He paused, raising a brow. “Is that what you want to hear?”
“Is it the truth?” Cyra inquired, leaning forward.
“Yes,” Halewijn sighed, his hooded eyes examining her face. “That, and I want to make love to you tonight.”
“Oh?” The High Prince let his hands wander further up, confirming his words without speaking. “Then take what you want, High Prince. All you need to do is ask.” The High Prince spared no time in doing just that.