Emotions & Guests
The next morning, a considerable commotion outside of the palace drew everyone’s attention inside its four walls, and the sight of servants making haste with linens and clothing confused Cyra and Mirabel, who stood in the hallway, watching the chaos
“Someone has arrived early?” The head cook fumed, followed by his second-in-command and Leonel, who tried to explain the arrival. Only sputtered responses and half-muttered excuses could be heard, so Cyra took it upon herself to find the source of the confusion, despite still being dressed in her nightgown.
“Decorum is not important right now,” She mumbled, dashing down the stairs. The din was even louder there, and Cyra took the opportunity to stop a young, dark-skinned boy rushing to the opposite corridor. “Who has arrived?” She wondered, and the little boy opened his mouth to speak, his two front teeth missing.
“It’s the Grand Duke and Grand Duchess, your Highness!” Immediately, Cyra let him go, and he scampered off, catching up to another set of young men.
“I’ll run a bath.” Mirabel chimed in and headed upstairs to the bathroom in a hurry. Halewijn almost immediately emerged from his own room half-naked, hair wet and slightly curling at the ends. Cyra looked up at him as he jogged down the red steps, her mouth drying up as he came closer to her.
“It’s Eres and Idria,” He announced brightly, shrugging his pale blue shirt on. “I’ll go and greet them while you get ready.” He didn’t wait for Cyra to speak, instead choosing to plant a kiss on her lips and then rush down the hallway to the portico.
Idria and Eres had made it to the palace and were catching up with Halewijn as Cyra prepped for the day. Once she finished dressing and placing all of her ornaments on, Mirabel followed Cyra down the stairs, attempting to finish the plait in her hair.
“Don’t move so quickly!” The lady hissed, but as soon as Halewijn rounded the corner with Idria and Eres, Cyra picked up her pace, making Mirabel groan as she finished the plait with a ribbon. Idria saw Cyra first and squealed with excitement, pushing past Halewijn and Eyes to meet her at the foot of the staircase.
“Cyra! I’ve missed you so much!” The woman crushed Cyra to her chest and let out a long sigh, the scent of jasmine and roses enveloping the air around them. “You look absolutely radiant in yellow. Doesn’t she look beautiful, Eres?” Idria asked once she pulled away, holding Cyra’s upper arms. Idria also wore a pale yellow gown and cooed about how they were now twins, despite the pair looking completely different.
“Yes, she looks beautiful. How are you, Princess Cyra?” Eres inquired, tilting his head to the side. Cyra smiled at him widely and replied,
“I’m well. We’re excited to have you both here. But weren’t you two supposed to come with my mother and father?” Idria and Eres looked at each other briefly, then back at Cyra.
“Did they not tell you that we would be coming ahead of them? They wrote to us and advised us to arrive earlier.”
“I haven’t received any correspondence from my family…” Cyra paused, and Halewijn frowned, humming in wonder.
“And I hadn’t sent any letters except the two I sent when we arrived.” The group paused, but an answer floated up between all four of them. Before anyone could speak, however, Omar descended the steps, smiling like a fox spotting chickens in a coop.
“Ah, the Grand Duke and Duchess! It’s wonderful to see Skaruskan faces around the palace.” It was painfully evident in his tone that he neither enjoyed nor thought it was ‘wonderful’ to see the pair in his home, but it was quickly masked by a fake smile. “Perhaps I could have someone show you two around today?”
“No, thank you,” Eres spoke up, stepping toward Idria with his hand extended. “Halewijn just took us around the palace grounds. I must say, the architecture is impressive. How many slaves did it take your kingdom to rebuild it?” At the mention of slaves, Omar bristled. Cyra looked to Eres with wide eyes, hoping he wouldn’t start a fight at that moment.
“I’m not sure. It wouldn’t compare to the number of Skaruskans who originally destroyed it, though.” Omar mused, smiling wryly.
“Ah, yes. I forgot we took control of this piece of land for a while in the First Intermediate war…” Eres looked about the room with his cold blue eyes. “It would be a shame if another one ruined the remodeling of this palace.” The threat landed between the group like an anchor on the seafloor, and the two stood silently, sizing each other up for a moment.
“Perhaps we should continue our… conversation in the dining hall?” Idria wondered, effectively breaking the tension with her soft voice.
“A lovely idea.” Eres chirped, taking her arm and leading her there. “I’m absolutely famished.”
A stroll in the hedge maze proved to be relaxing for the four after their mid-morning meal, and Idria linked her arm underneath Cyra’s with glee.
“We must discuss the wedding!” She urged her, and the younger of the two smiled back tenderly, warmth creeping up her neck.
“What would you like to know?”
The two men hung behind, observing the ladies with mild curiosity.
“I shouldn’t say this, but you seem on edge,” Halewijn noted, looking over to Eres with concern. “What has you up in arms?”
“It’s the letters. We sent you both a letter; did you not receive any?”
“Not one,” Halewijn admitted. Eres nodded and pursed his lips, thinking.
“Your father has been tampering with your mail. Outgoing and incoming. Why would he write a letter beckoning us to come sooner than Bilka and Ekbert? What tricks will he try to pull this time?”
Eres isn’t the type to be overly concerned about anything, Halewijn realized, but now he’s worried.
“I’m not shocked,” Shekmir answered, grinding his teeth together. “Your father has this urge to be in everyone’s business. Perhaps he found something he didn’t like and destroyed the letters.”
“Did you two write about anything compromising?” Halewijn wondered aloud, crossing his arms behind him.
“We’re not idiots,” Eres scoffed. “It was mostly fluff about the wedding, but we wanted to make sure the two of you were alive and well.”
“Cyra got into a scrape with an assailant not long after we got here.” The unsavory news made Eres frown deeply, wrinkling his perfectly tan skin. “She made it back, with some help, of course.”
“Who helped her?”
“A woman named Armantha. She has a checkered history with Cyra, though. I’m not sure why she is so helpful and friendly now, but I know it’s one of two things: she really wants Cyra to survive or…”
“She has ties with Omar.”
Oddly enough, Shekmir remained quiet while they had the conversation about Armantha. Usually, he had something to say about everything, but it wasn’t until the conversation was over that he finally chose to speak up.
“I have a feeling Armantha isn’t as devious as you make her out to be.” The cryptic message came with no additional notes, no observations, no warnings. Shekmir knew something he didn’t want to share; that much was obvious.
“No additional advice?” Halewijn sent back, but the god remained eerily silent, disappearing into the back of his mind again.
Up ahead, Cyra and Idria were chatting about the Ostara rites, and Halewijn felt his heart swell when he looked at Cyra. Warmth flooded his body for a moment, but the hollow voice of Shekmir piped up one last time before sliding back into the shadows.
“You get very emotional about Cyra. Keep that in check.”