Temples & Crowns
Three Months Later
Cyra stared out at the landscape with a wistful look.
The previous ten weeks had quickly passed without incident; she hadn’t seen much of Omar, despite running into Leonel quite a few times while walking about the palace grounds. Armantha visited her irregularly, and it usually involved petty gossip from her “sources” or updates about her status on the plot to help Halewijn usurp the throne.
Halewijn, for his part, seemed to grow increasingly affectionate as the day of the wedding drew near. Strolls in the hedge maze seemed to be a staple of daily life, as well as conversations about the mundane over breakfast.
“Princess,” Mirabel called out over her thoughts. “The dressmaker has finally arrived.” Cyra had almost entirely forgotten about her wedding dress and the day of the mummer’s play. The rosy-cheeked woman swept into the room with no greeting, instead instructing a young man to place a large, black garment bag on Cyra’s bed. The round woman milled about the room, adjusting the mirror so it faced away and putting her hair in a swirled brown bun on top of her head.
“I will need your lady-in-waiting to leave the room.” The command was met with no hesitation; Mirabel took her leave without question. Finally, alone, the dressmaker exhaled, unzipping the garment bag with care.
She produced a flowing white gown with long sleeves, just as Cyra requested. “I will help you with it today, as well as the day of the wedding.” The promise made Cyra shudder with anticipation. She disrobed herself before stepping into the gown and letting the woman zip her up. The gentle kiss of the satin against her skin soothed her senses; she would hate the feeling of itchy tulle as she danced or walked down the aisle. The dressmaker made a few adjustments; tugging in places, tucking in others. But when the woman turned the mirror around, Cyra witnessed the garment’s full effect on her body.
“It’s…” Words escaped her as she turned about, looking at the short train and v-shaped back dipping below her shoulders. The dress’s front was off the shoulder with long-sleeves, the v-shape coming to a dip just below her collarbone. Cyra adjusted the long-sleeves to meet at her wrists and examined the small beading on the waist with her fingers. “I…” The elegance of the dress, despite the simple shape and fabric, could not be described. “This is astonishing.”
“And the veil.” The woman draped the traditional lace cloth over her head, letting it fall around her shoulders. The woven roses and birds were delicate and ornate; Cyra swore she could see the feathers on each wing and the indention of the petals as she tried to pick apart the shapes. “I have no tiara for you that will match the Crown Jewels of the High Princess. No one has seen them item in over half a century, and I certainly won’t be permitted to look upon it until your wedding day.”
The thought that no one she personally knew had seen the crown she would own upon her marriage to Halewijn made the day seem even more daunting. Not even Halewijn’s mother had been privy to wearing it.
“Allegedly, the last Princess who wore it was not much older than you, but just as beautiful.” The dressmaker continued making her adjustments on the dress without further comment.
When the fitting was over, Cyra ventured over to Halewijn’s room, where he sat facing away from the door.
“Halewijn?” At the sound of her voice, Halewijn turned around in his chair, pen in hand. His dark brown brows smoothed out into a look of affection, and he dropped the pen to extend his hand toward her.
“Come,” he beckoned, motioning for her to approach him. “Look at the plans I am making.” Cyra ventured over to his side, looking at the items on the desk. “I am making a new temple for Shekmir and Usasis.” He pointed to the front of the building, where numerous pillars held up a large relief sculpture.
“What will go here?” Cyra pointed to the relief, littered with indistinguishable scribbles.
“Either the battle of the gods or the births of Usasis and Shekmir on opposite ends. I will decide soon.”
“And why are you building this?” A smile tugged at Halewijn’s lips as he pushed away from the worktable.
“Can’t a man build beautiful things to be seen by the other Courts?” Hal captured her chin between his left thumb and forefinger, rubbing at Cyra’s bottom lip. “Besides, we need a couple of new temples here. I have yet to see one combining two gods under one roof; I could be the pioneer of something never created before.”
“Ah, but what will the priestesses say?” Cyra teased, hooking her right hand on his left forearm. “Won’t they object to having to share sacrifices during the holidays?”
“Hmmm,” Halewijn titled his head to the side, eyes searching the air for an answer. “I hadn’t thought of that.” A devious grin spread across Halewijn’s face, and he leaned forward, brushing his lips across hers. “You’re such a help to me; you always think of the things I never consider.”
“Speaking of which,” Cyra stepped back a little, the backs of her thighs hitting the worktable. “I need to ask for a favor.”
“Ask, and it will be done for you.” The High Prince’s hooded eyes looked down at hers, but Cyra felt the question stick in her throat.
“I…” The moment of hesitation was too long. Why was she unable to speak about the High Princess’s crown? “Halewijn, I think…”
“I’m listening.” He tilted his head the other way, the fingers at her lips now trailing down to her waist.
“Would it be possible for me to see the High Princess’s crown?” The words came out in a rush, but once they left her mouth, Cyra watched Halewijn blink before nodding twice.
“Of course.” Halewijn chirped, brightening. “Was that the favor you needed?”
“Yes,” She began, but Halewijn moved to put on his shoes.
“I’ll take you there right now. We’ll have to visit our High Priestess in the temple of Rhadros. She keeps a watch over all of the unworn crowns and tiaras of the High Court.”
“Why?” Cyra wondered. “I anticipated them being in a vault, like ours.”
“Oh, no.” He shrugged on a cloak of black and gold velvet and turned to the door, moving quickly. “If there’s one person in this whole High Court who has no need for the jewels but will protect them like they’re her own, it’s Pelëa.” When Cyra gave him a questioning look, he simply jerked his chin at her to follow. “Trust me, you’ll see.”
The temple of Rhadros was massive.
Golden archways and marble statues littered the courtyard, leading up to a large, lapis-lazuli gate covered in clay images of the gods. While Cyra sat upon her horse marveling, Halewijn looked at her in amusement.
“I’ve never seen a temple this lavish…” Cyra explained slowly, her eyes roving over the temple grounds as she dismounted. An attendant, dressed in indigo robes, took their horses’ reins before leading them away.
“Rhadros - as you know - is the king of the gods. No expense was spared in building this temple.” As Halewijn strolled under the arches, his black and gold cloak caught the wind, flapping behind him. The scent of pines and musk wafted into Cyra’s face, and she inhaled deeply, savoring the heady smell.
“Wait,” Cyra dashed to catch up with Hal, taking hold of his hand as they passed under another arch. “Who built this temple?”
“It was built long before our time. Some say the gods instructed the First King to build this himself. No one knows when exactly, though.” He pointed up to the temple’s steps, where a young woman stood at the top. “Ah, there’s Pelëa.” Her long, white hair billowed out of her hooded indigo robe, and she spread her light brown hands in welcome, smiling widely and showing her slightly jagged teeth without shame.
“High Prince, Princess Cyra! It’s a pleasure to welcome you to the temple. And just in time, too.” Cyra smiled back at the woman, the soft voice putting the Princess at ease. She bobbed in a slight curtsy, bowing her head to her superior.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, High Priestess.”
“I’m sure it is. Ostara isn’t too far off, and I have many things to ask you.” Halewijn hugged the woman respectfully before returning to Cyra’s side and taking her hand.
“Pelëa, it’s good to be in your presence again. You’ve aged very gracefully.”
“One-hundred years flies by like the blink of an eye, young man.” Halewijn turned to Cyra, grinning.
“Pelëa and I go way back. She was the first person to hold me once I came out of the womb.”
“Holding a High Prince was and is an honor I will never forget.” Pelëa turned around, waving them inside. “Come, I have what you seek.” She reached her hands out to touch the walls of the temple, feeling her way around the corners. Upon realizing the reason, Cyra looked to Halewijn, mouth opened to whisper a question. Halewijn sharply shook his head to prevent Cyra from speaking, and Pelëa stopped suddenly, pausing at a closed stone door. “Here.”
The door had no doorknob and seemed heavy enough to need three men to open, but Pelëa pressed her hand against the stone and pushed it inward with ease. The silence inside the room was deafening, and the darkness almost enveloped the three, but with a wave of her hand, torches flickered to life slowly, flooding the room with a bright orange light.
“High Princess, your crown is inside. The High Queen’s crown is here as well, but I’m sure you’ll be able to tell the difference.” Cyra looked around the room, her eyes landing on various jewels: necklaces, rings, bracelets, and earrings. But only two crowns rested side by side, blood rubies and gold metal bending similarly. The shorter of the two was laden with diamonds and sapphires as well, but the taller one only held small diamonds and three large rubies in the middle.
“Why is the High Queen’s crown shorter than the Princess’s?”
“The first Queen to wear it wanted it that way. I cannot answer for her.” Cyra lifted the larger crown off the small stand and turned it this way and that.
“This is what I will wear on my wedding day…” Halewijn stood behind her, observing her carefully.
“Speaking of,” Pelëa murmured. “I need to know a few things before we hold a holiday and a wedding on the same day. I should have summoned you sooner, but Omar has forbidden us from coming to the palace.”
“Why?” Cyra wondered, looking at Halewijn for answers.
“I’ll tell you on the way back to the palace.” He reassured her, holding his hand up to prevent any other questions from Cyra. With the crown in possession, Pelëa escorted the couple out of the room, allowing Cyra to hold the crown in her hands as they departed.
“Have Gwennivarr put that in a proper holder for you. We lost the old one on accident, but many things can hold a prized possession like this.” The same attendant who took their horses materialized beside them, and Cyra handed her the crown with hesitation, whereupon Gwennivarr ghosted away with the item without a word. Pelëa continued feeling her way around the temple, her fingers pushing against the marble soundlessly.
“Cyra, follow me. Halewijn, would you mind staying here? I’ll send your bride back when I am done.” Cyra turned to Halewijn with uncertainty, but he nodded with confidence.
“Go on, I trust her.” Cyra let her hand slip out of Hal’s and followed Pelëa down the stairs and into the back garden, where women in indigo robes flitted about. An impressive golden statue of Rhadros stood in the middle of the horticulture, his left finger pointing towards the sky, where it seemed to touch the sun. His expression was blank, but Cyra thought he looked almost hopeful as he reached toward the sky in earnest. The king of the gods muscles were smelted with precision, and his right foot lifted off the ground ever so slightly. Rhadros looked as if he aspired to become one with the beasts of the air with a long cloak draped over his right arm, a symbol of the burden he carried as the head of the entire universe.
“Rhadros commanded all of us to take a goði oath by our sixteenth birthdays.” Pelëa whispered. “In exchange for our oath and chastity, we gain near-immortality and the second sight, which is a blessing and a curse.”
“The second sight?”
“We can see the past and two steps into the future; tomorrow and the day after. But the future changes with every choice made, so it is somewhat unreliable. We do not allow our priestesses to prophesy for this specific reason.” Pelëa found a place to sit in the shade and beckoned Cyra to sit with her by patting the earth. “Your marriage to Halewijn approaches. How do you feel about this?”
How did she feel about it? “I feel…” The words seemed too far off. She loved Halewijn, honestly, but the marriage meant more than love. She was going to become the High Princess, which meant she would have to sit under Omar for a time. “I don’t know.”
“It’s easy for commoners to say they are elated for marriage. To them, marriage means love. For you, it means suffering with the man you love.” Cyra dropped her eyes to the blades of grass blowing in the wind. “It will be hard.” Pelëa hung her head in solemnity, tucking her lips in. “But you will find a way.”
“Will I?” A grin pulled up the corners of Pelëa’s lips, and she chuckled.
“I don’t know yet. I was speaking out of my hopefulness.” A pause allowed the two women to listen to the chatter of the others around them, catching bits and pieces of conversation blown toward them on the crisp air. “You cannot share what I am about to tell you with Halewijn.” Fear jolted into Cyra’s heart, and the sharp intake of air slammed her lungs into her ribcage. “Swear it to me, and I will know you will not be able to break your promise.”
“I swear.” Cyra blurted out, but Pelëa paused, grinding her teeth.
“Omar has no intention of letting his son go quietly; this, I know. If Omar wins any contest for the throne, your husband will be no more. Deep in his heart, Halewijn holds out the idea that his father will have mercy on both of you, but he is wrong.”
“Why am I forbidden from telling him this?”
“If you tell Halewijn, there is a strong possibility he will act before he thinks. His first urge is to protect the ones he loves. His second urge is to kill those who stand in his way.”