A Tale of Crowns and Stars

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Swords & Cake

“You slipped something into the pound cake.” Cyra jested, playfully pushing Wyndemere on his shoulder as he polished his knife.

“I did not,” He began, laughing. “I simply had the cook warm it. I had no say in what went into it. Plus, I’m a horrible cook.” Alorha, Idria, and Mirabel barely looked up from the card game they played on the garden lawn but laughed at their conversation.

“Mirabel said she couldn’t wake you up from your sleep until after breakfast!” Alorha tossed to Cyra, who shrugged, smiling.

“I slept well; what can I say?” A horde of people swept by the lounging group without acknowledging them; carrying linens, chairs, and archways into the garden space.

“Only five more days…” Idria murmured ominously, and Cyra’s stomach dropped at the thought. Married, crowned, and perhaps crowned again. It was then that she remembered the holmgang as well, the threat thereof looming in the back of her mind like the swinging ropes of a gallows. Halewijn barely acknowledged the genuine possibility he could end up on the wrong side of Omar’s sword, perhaps because it scared him almost as much as it frightened her. But they hadn’t spoken about it, not yet.

“Cyra?” Alorha’s voice brought her back to the present, and she registered the others’ eyes on her.

“Did you ask me a question?” She wondered, but Mirabel quickly shook her head, dismissing the inquiry.

“It’s irrelevant.” Wyndemere gave Cyra a pointed look but quickly went back to his knife-polishing as the card game resumed. Cyra turned around to watch the people preparing the garden for the lavish festival-wedding, still unable to shake the sinking feeling in her gut.

“Your Highness!” Cyra’s head snapped to the portico of the palace, where the same young boy she had stopped in the hallway when Idria and Eres had arrive stood. He waved a short arm at her, then jogged down the stairs to meet her in the garden.

Out of breath and slick with sweat, the dark-skinned child placed his hands on his knees, huffing as Cyra approached. “You’re… needed… in the… library.” Cyra smiled down at the brown-eyed, coil-haired boy and patted his cheek twice in thanks.

“Thank you, sir. Go ask one of those white-haired men for a sip of lemonade and tell them I sent you. If you’re nice, I’m sure Wyndemere will sneak you a slice of pound cake.” The young boy nodded, smiling - thus showing the missing teeth again - before rushing over to the group to collect his reward.

Cyra took the stairs one at a time, making the trip to the library a deliberate one. She hadn’t stopped to ask who sent for her or what the nature of the talk would be. Perhaps it was Omar, looking for some information she wouldn’t divulge. Or maybe it was Halewijn, who spent his days bent over his plans for the new temple and somewhere with Alorha ’conducting meetings’, Alorha confessed, but wouldn’t share the nature thereof. It could even be the frozen-eyed Eres, who seemed to give her a lot more space than he had at Yul.

An attendant pushed open the library doors upon her arrival, and she walked in, examining the room that looked a lot like the one at home, except much larger in size.

“… the path will lead right here.” She heard Halewijn’s voice echo in the room and followed the sound up a flight of stairs and to her left. When she found him, he sat in front of a large window that overlooked the palace grounds’ west side, where the hedge maze was. Beyond the hedge maze stood a tall, grey wall that seemed to deflect even the sun’s powerful rays, but that didn’t dim the light in the greenery below it by a fraction.

“My love, you came quickly,” Halewijn murmured, turning away from the desk and holding his hand out to her, his way of bringing her close for a kiss.

“I didn’t know who sent for me,” Cyra replied, running a hand down his beard before kissing him again. “Or else I would’ve gone a little slower.” Halewijn laughed at her joke but then turned around to face the bookcase behind him.

“Eres,” He called out. The Grand Duke appeared almost immediately, examining a small book in his hands. Halewijn stood, taking Cyra’s hand and leading her deeper into the library with Eres in tow.

“What’s the matter?” Cyra wondered as he pulled her along, but he didn’t speak, steering her toward a fireplace with four brown armchairs encircling a small glass table.

“Have a seat.” Eres urged, and Cyra sunk into the suede chair obediently. Eres and Hal sat across from each other with Cyra in the middle, and the sullen royals gave each other a glance before Halewijn turned to Cyra.

“Your parents will be coming within the hour, as planned.” Cyra nodded, unsure why this fact required the decorum and seriousness as if there was a family member’s death. “But they are not to know a single thing I’m about to tell you.”

“My lips are sealed,” Cyra confirmed, and Halewijn gave her a small smile.

“The holmgang will occur the day after the wedding.” The Princess’s face fell at the mention of the terrifying duel, but she didn’t speak. Cyra knew words wouldn’t come out the way she wanted them to, so she let Halewijn continue instead. “I will challenge my father at the wedding feast, and the charges will be set the next day. At sunset on the same day, we will go to the Temple of Rhadros, where we will duel.” The layout of the plan seemed easy enough.

“Why do my parents need this kept from them?”

“I’m not finished,” Halewijn murmured, and Cyra watched him hunch over a little, lace his fingers together, and inhale deeply. ”Should I fail—”

“You said you wouldn’t fail.” She interrupted, but Eres held up a hand to stop her.

“You need to hear this, Cyra.”

“Should I fail,” Halewijn started again, letting the words linger on his tongue. “You will go with Eres and Idria to Skaruska immediately. You will not stay here in Oskurga. Wyndemere and Alorha will go with you. Mirabel will flee to the East, where your mother and father will take her in, of course.” Cyra felt tears racing down her cheeks.

“But, Halewijn—”

“You will stay in Skaruska while the South, West, and East mount an offensive attack against the High Court. If you return, you will return only when the war is over and will reign as High Queen.”

“Halewijn, I can’t agree—”

“I’ll speak to Armantha since we have decided to trust her,” Halewijn spoke over Cyra again, still not looking at her face. “If she is who she claims to be, I’ll entrust her to keep your mother and father safe.” Sobs were wrenched from Cyra’s throat at the thought of having to abandon her mother, father, and most of all, Halewijn, who would be dead. Just like Gunnar.

“And what will I do without you?” She choked out, and finally, Halewijn raised his head to look her in the eye. ”What will I do without you?” She repeated, a little louder this time.

“You will continue living like I promised. I won’t lose you to Omar.” Cyra shook her head, wiping the tears from her eyes with the back of her sleeve.

“I can’t…” Cyra spared a glance at Eres, who took the opportunity to speak, his voice stern and commanding.

“If Hal loses, I will need you to find me immediately. There is only one box seating space for the royals, and Omar will want to give you a front-row seat to the holmgang. I will be in the crowd on the right side, but you will have to exit the box seats and find me outside of the temple dueling grounds.”

“But what if Omar’s guards won’t let me go?” Cyra hiccuped.

“That’s what Chaossong is for, isn’t it?” At the mention of the dagger, she fearfully looked up at Eres’s eyes, feeling the dagger’s absence on her right thigh.

“How do you know about that?” Cyra breathed.

“We’ve both known for a while,” Eres motioned to him and Hal. “But we agreed not to say anything because it made you feel safe. I let Idria think I consider her to be this bubbly, excitable, young Grand Duchess, but I know she’s capable of putting me and my kin in the ground. These things can’t be escaped or overlooked when you’re in positions such as ours.” Eres added wryly, looking down at his hands and grimacing.

“And that’s why I need you to go with him, should the time come. Leave everything behind. Don’t look back. All of these plans won’t matter if Omar gets his hands on you, which I swore he never would be able to do again.” Halewijn leaned forward a bit more, taking her tiny hands in his large, smooth grip. “Cyra, look me in my eyes.” Inhaling deeply, she found the will to look him in his warm, golden eyes. He attempted to smile, perhaps to reassure her, but the smile seemed flat and lifeless. “I love you.”

“I love you, too.” Cyra choked out, tears beginning anew. Halewijn stood and pulled her into an embrace, holding her close to his chest as she wept.

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