Blood & Sunlight
Sunlight danced through the open windows, gracing the young High Prince with its warm rays.
“Wake up. We have work to do.” Shekmir’s chastisement did not spur Halewijn into immediate action, but he rose anyways, disentangling himself from Cyra slowly. The sleeping Princess did not stir - thankfully - and Halewijn leaned over her to place a kiss on her exposed cheek as he shrugged his nightshirt back on. Shekmir - ever the gentleman - hummed low in his throat as Hal assessed her one last time, then whistled his appreciation.
“Another night like that and I might have to-”
“Hush up,” Halewijn whispered, pulling on his pants. “You did enough talking last night.” Shekmir only laughed, leaning back in his chair and kicking his heels up. The High Prince shut the door to Cyra’s room softly, readjusting himself before walking away. On the way to his room, he could clearly hear his father’s voice from the foyer, his tone laced with anger and confusion. Shekmir straightened up in his chair, squinting his eyes.
“Sounds like a conversation we need to check out.” Halewijn followed Shekmir’s advice and walked over to the edge of the staircase, peering down slowly.
At the bottom of the stairs, a woman with reddish-brown hair spoke animatedly, explaining something with her hands as Omar paced around her.
“That’s why I was delayed again. I am truly sorry to have upset you, your Majesty.”
“Armantha,” Halewijn craned his neck to get a better look at the South’s traitor. “You know how much this all means to me. I trust that this won’t happen again.” Omar was not pleased with the late arrival, but Halewijn couldn’t see his face to determine how displeased he was.
“Never again, your Majesty.” The sounds of receding steps came from his father as he left Armantha alone in the foyer. She waited a moment before looking up, catching Hal’s gaze. His lips parted as he beheld the beautiful young woman, and her lips curled up into a wry smile before she followed behind his father, not daring to mention who she had seen.
It was only after her bath that Cyra learned Armantha arrived that morning.
The Princess growled at the sound of the woman’s name but said nothing else, lacing her fingers together and closing her eyes.
“Omar did not sound pleased,” Halewijn noted, buttoning his tunic up to his neck.
“But she’s still here.” Cyra pointed out, and Hal shrugged. Cyra rolled her eyes as Mirabel sat her tiara on her curly head, exhaling deeply. “I swear if that traitor says one word to me -”
“You’ll keep your head, my love,” Halewijn interjected, giving Cyra a sideways glance. She rolled a finger underneath her Qipao collar, adjusting it before sliding her hand back down to her lap. “Play the game, or we both lose our heads.”
Breakfast initially didn’t seem like it would be a peaceful occasion, but Cyra held her tongue, only daring to glance at Armantha twice but never speaking. To speak to the traitor would mean she acknowledged the woman, and to acknowledge her would imply that Cyra would have to continue to watch her tongue.
Though, the Princess had to admit… Armantha was more beautiful now than she had been all those years ago. Her auburn hair seemed to shine in the light of the sun, and when Cyra looked at Armantha’s brown eyes, they glittered as the woman spoke. Too bad her beauty wouldn’t keep Cyra from giving her a well-deserved slew of rebukes when the time was right.
Armantha glanced up from her cup of wine, caught Cyra staring at her, and then offered a timid smile. Cyra looked away immediately, scowling at her own wine glass before leaning over to retrieve a boiled goose egg from the other side of the table. When Cyra’s fingers accidentally brushed the edge of Armantha’s plate in her quest, the woman leaned forward to get the goose egg herself, handing it to Cyra carefully.
“Here.” Cyra examined the boiled item in Armantha’s hand, then flicked her eyes to her face, staring her down.
“I just lost my appetite.” The Princess bit out, but Halewijn quickly swooped in and took the egg from her.
“But I have not. Thank you, Lady Armantha.” With haste, Halewijn cracked open the egg, chewing on the item thoughtfully. He used his other hand to squeeze Cyra’s thigh as a warning, reminding her of the promise she made. Omar then began a recounting of all of the times Armantha came to his aid, which soured the goose egg in Hal’s stomach, and inspired a new hatred of the woman in Cyra’s heart.
Riding crop in hand and Chaossong on her thigh, Cyra stalked off to the stables, full of rage. She supposed a long ride would cool her down and inspire a new resolve in her mind to pretend to get along with Armantha until Ostara ended, despite that being two long months away. But she couldn’t shake the feeling that continued to sit in her heart; that never-ending fire that held the names of all of the people who did her loved ones wrong would not go out quickly. Halewijn had tried to console her after the meal, but Cyra was not easily pacified.
The horses at the High Court stables shifted restlessly, eager to be taken out for a ride. An attendant followed the Princess silently, waiting for any indication that she would pick a steed to ride without swaying her choices. Cyra crunched the hay underneath her riding boots with satisfaction, and the sound slightly eased her nerves, bringing her to the present moment and the peacefulness of the stables.
“Do you have a fast steed?”
“They’re all fast, your Highness.” The girl murmured, keeping her braided head low. “Where will you be riding today?”
“To the river and back.”
“Would you desire a companion?” The sentries Halewijn promised her hung like a flag in the back of her mind, but she shook her head.
Once Cyra had chosen a chestnut steed - named Alistair - she mounted it with ease and began her slow trot off the main grounds. Passing through the High King’s keep’s outer gates was simple: one arm raised to the guard above the entrance would suffice. No one asked any questions or inquired about her fiancé’s whereabouts. The only thing between her and an assailant would be the dagger and a riding crop, but Cyra didn’t care. All she wanted to do was clear her head.
The fresh air outside of the keep did just that as Alistair broke off into a gallop. Cyra’s hair billowed out behind her, and she felt freedom in her bones as the empty fields stretched on endlessly. Cyra didn’t know where to go, but that didn’t matter. The river cut to the left and the right of the High Court, and sooner or later, she would reach it, then turn around. While the steed kept his pace, Cyra let her thoughts wander over the hills and across the sea to Skaruska.
Idria and Eres were now long gone from Oskurga and had not yet written, to her knowledge. But traveling to their country -which was absolutely forbidden by the High Council - seemed like a sweet escape. As High Queen, Cyra knew she could do whatever she pleased, and bridging the gap between the Beyonders and Oskurga was one of the many things on her list. Getting the entire High Council behind that idea would be difficult, but she was sure they would acquiesce with enough persuasion. The sharp caw of a raven above snapped the Princess out of her thoughts. Taking a second to glance at her surroundings, Cyra realized that she would have to go through a large wooded area before she would come upon any source of water. That was not part of the plan.
Cyra jerked on the reins once, bringing Alistair to a slow walk as they entered the woods. While keeping her wits about her, Cyra managed to come upon a small stream between the trees. She let the horse drink while holding the reins at her side, exhaling deeply in the shaded woods. Leaning her head back, she let the noon rays of the sun warm her face as she closed her eyes. Warmth coursed through her body in the semi-frigid air, and relaxation took hold of her. But only for a moment.
The sound of crunching leaves alerted her and Alistair to a presence nearby, and their heads swiveled to the left at the same time. That was when they spotted a figure clothed in all black, eyes covered by a hood, while their nose and mouth were covered with a mask. The figure sat atop a black horse and slowly approached the space in the clearing - too slowly.
“Who are you?” Cyra called out but received no answer. “I said, who are you?” The figure still did not answer, but instead, drew a dagger from their right thigh and dismounted smoothly from the horse. Cyra took this moment to remount Alistair and lead him away as fast as she could but only managed a brisk trot in the wooded area. It wasn’t enough to get out.
The figure took off at a run, quickly gaining a few yards on them as Cyra tried to lead the horse through the woods without spooking it or injuring herself. Branches whipped at her face and tugged at her hair, causing more confusion and pain as she tried to escape, but suddenly, she was yanked off of Alistair, who sped onward at full gallop without her.
When she landed on the woods floor, she could only see the image of the hooded figure above her. Adrenaline coursed through Cyra’s veins when she spotted the silver dagger, making her roll out of the way and bringing her to a standing position. Cyra quickly unsheathed Chaossong, bringing it up and into a fighting position, which the black figure mimicked. The thrum of the weapon below her fingers did not go unnoticed, and Cyra exhaled shakily, waiting for the would-be assailant to make their first move.
She didn’t have to wait long.
“Gods help me!” The person swiped at her with their dagger, and Cyra stepped back, ducking out of the way as they made a few more jabs at the air where she had been, finally backing her into a tree. This was a ruse - she realized - as they caught her moving to the left, out of the way of one of the swipes, and cut her right arm. The cloth at her wrist split open, and blood seeped from the wound immediately, making Cyra hiss in pain and drop Chaossong into the brush. The distraction allowed the assailant to make one more swipe at her - this time on her left leg, cutting open the fabric there, creating a sizable horizontal gash. Cyra fell down on her left knee, her cry of pain echoing in the woods.
Tears rolled down her cheeks as she brought her arms up to shield herself from the blows that were sure to rain down upon her, and she looked away. Without warning, something warm and wet splattered on her upraised hands and exposed cheek, and Cyra waited for the blow that would kill her… but nothing came. Lowering her hands and looking around, she noticed that the assailant lay at her knees, an arrow lodged firmly in the back of their head. Someone made their way down to her, and Cyra examined the blood on her hands. Little pieces of brain matter rested on her palm and fingertips, but the red blood was her main focus as it mingled with her blood running from the cut on her arm.
“Fucking hell!” The person - a woman - kicked the dead body twice, rolling it over on its side. “You dumb bitch, you’re supposed to stay safe until the wedding and then usurp the throne - not die out here in the woods like a thief!” That voice… Cyra knew that voice.
She looked up from her hands and right into the eyes of -