A Tale of Crowns and Stars

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Music & Courts

“The King and Queen of the North: Leon and Hannah!”

Announcement after announcement had been made the next morning; first introducing the Western Court, then the Southern Court, and finally, the Northern Court. Now they gathered in the Grand Hall, milling about while talking with each other and waiting for Omar to arrive.

Cyra made quick acquaintances with the King and Queen of the Western Court - as Halewijn had predicted. Lynna, the smaller of the two, spoke in a high-pitched tone that sounded like the tinkling of bells, while Marcell’s voice sounded even and soft. The Queen seemed eager to make herself known to Cyra, as the ambassador spoke so highly of her upon returning to the West, and Marcell availed himself to the conversation, despite obviously being an introvert. Lynna and Marcell were sweethearts and soft-hearted, Cyra discovered, as well as very open to having the two stay with them for their honeymoon.

“We would be overjoyed to have you stay with us for your honeymoon!” Lynna beamed, and Marcell echoed her enthusiasm by nodding, which made the light dance around his blonde hair. The uniqueness of his hairstyle caught Cyra off-guard, and she examined the shaved sides closely, noting the braid in the back came from the middle of his head and down to the nape of his neck. Lynna also braided her silver hair, but it was pulled into a low bun that rested along the collar of her high-necked dress.

“I know the girls would be so happy to spend more time with you, Halewijn,” Marcell added, and Halewijn smiled at the two, his eyes crinkling up at the edges.

“We have yet to discuss the honeymoon, but we will put the Western Kingdom at the top of our list.” He assured them, again giving them a bright and disarming smile. “Won’t we, dear?” Hal patted Cyra’s hand, which was hooked in the crook of his elbow, and she smiled back at the couple.

Next, they made their way over to the Southern and Eastern King and Queen, who were deep in conversation about the new developments on the Southern Court’s border with the East.

“You have to come and see the new temple.” Smyrna cooed, resting a hand on Bilka’s forearm. “It’s for Vereus, but I am so awestruck every time I walk into it. It’s bright and spacious, like a solarium, with hundreds of windows and glass chandeliers.” The Southern Queen continued on about the Temple of Glass, but as Hal and Cyra approached, Bilka smiled at them and held an arm out to Halewijn.

“Come, speak with your in-laws about this thing we heard about in the gossip halls.” She hissed, and Halewijn frowned deeply, pulling back slightly.

“What thing have you heard of?” He chuckled, looking between the group members in confusion.

“We hear…” Aethelwulf began, looking about him carefully. “We hear you’re going to challenge Omar to a holmgang.”

“That’s right,” Halewijn nodded, and Cyra felt the cloud of dread return at the sound of the fighting ritual. “The day after the wedding.”

“There hasn’t been a holmgang in centuries, boy. What convinced you to do something so…” Ekbert searched for the word, moving his hands about like a wizard as if he could conjure it up from thin air. “So… daring?”

“What he means, darling,” Smyrna piped up, putting a hand on Aethelwulf’s chest as a warning. “Is that we’re concerned. We will agree if you set the terms before the High Council, but have you been training? Your father used to be an expert swordsman, so I am acutely afraid that —”

“I’m sure Halewijn has done much more than play fight against willing servants.” Cyra interrupted, lacing her fingers together and shrugging. “I should remind you of who sat at home during the war while others endured slavery and mistreatment at the hands of the favored.”

“Well, certainly, but—” Her mother began, but Cyra glared her into silence.

“Then, what is the concern?”

The question would go unanswered, as the trumpets’ sound announcing Omar’s arrival echoed from the entrance. Stiffening slightly, Cyra turned to watch the High King parade into the room, his eyes falling upon the motley crew with distaste before moving over to Leon and Hannah, who stood with Lynna and Marcell.

High King Omar greeted the other four members of the High Council with joy, a smile plastered across his ordinarily serious face. “Ah, Leon… Hannah. You finally made it.” He embraced the two with a gentle hug, not lingering or allowing them more than a second in his arms. Leon stood only a little taller than his Amazon-like wife, the ever-youthful Hannah. They both had light-brown skin and black hair, Hannah’s styled in ringlets while Leon’s was cut very short.

Cyra observed Armantha shift a little in her lengthy, green gown, then drop her eyes when the King and Queen drew near to where she stood at the edge of the room. Halewijn stood beside Cyra and beamed at the two royals as they approached the other High Council members.

“King Leon, it’s a pleasure to see you again,” Halewijn began, tipping his head as Cyra dipped in a semi-curtsy. “Queen Hannah, you look radiant, as always.” The light-skinned Queen blushed a little, extending her hand to Halewijn for a kiss instead of saying any words, and he obliged, taking her hand and kissing it lightly. Cyra watched the exchange with some sort of envy sitting on her heart for a moment, but it all went away when Halewijn lifted her hand - her ring hand - and brought her out of her curtsy.

“You know my fiancé, Princess Cyra.”

“Ah, yes,” Hannah began, and Leon took his eyes off of Armantha for a moment to look at Cyra’s face, examining her hair all the way down to her shoes. “Our… ambassador… spoke highly of you in her letters.” Hannah’s hazel gaze was not friendly at all, perhaps because she assumed Armantha and her were friends. It would be the truth, of course, but it wouldn’t win her over to their cause by any means.

“I am glad to have made a favorable impression on the Northern Court,” Cyra replied dryly, not allowing the woman’s assumptions unnerve her.

“Indeed, you have,” Leon answered in a voice like gravel, but smiling nonetheless. “If Armantha considers you great company, I am inclined to believe her.”

“You are fortunate to be marrying a High Prince in a few days,” Hannah spoke over her husband, clearly annoyed he would dare to mention Armantha by name. “I should hope to speak with you further about your pending nuptials.” With that, Hannah and Leon turned away from Cyra and Hal, making conversation with the other royals gathered in the room.

“That went well,” Halewijn muttered under this breath.

“It seems like Hannah will listen to you before she listens to me,” Cyra whispered, looking up at Halewijn with a wry smile. Halewijn took a glance at the woman who followed behind Leon obediently and hummed his agreement.

A haunting song drifted up to Cyra at sundown from somewhere beyond her room, somewhere she could not see. A male voice - full and obviously trained in the art of song - sang words she did not know explicitly know, but they made her curious enough to wander out to her balcony to hear more.

With a little searching, Cyra identified the source of the music. There, in the garden, was a man playing a moraharpa. The beautiful music he sang made her feel alive — if only because of the passion in his voice — and she could only describe his tone as warm and alluring.

“Mirabel, my cloak. I need to take a short stroll in the garden.”

The trip down to the garden seemed shorter than when Cyra had gone before, but as she dashed down the portico steps - following the music - she felt the warmth inside of her chest grow. As she drew nearer to the man, he barely glanced up at her while he played. With an impressively long, black braided beard, the older man wore a black tunic and black pants beneath it, but his feet were entirely bare and nestled deep in the grass. When he paused, he turned his tanned face to Cyra and trained his blue eyes on her image.

“Your song is beautiful,” She began, but the man’s facial expression did not change even slightly. “I had to come out of my room to hear more. What language do you sing in?”

“You do not know it,” the man muttered, squinting his eyes at her. “The song was not meant for you.”

“A lover, perhaps? One far away in the Beyond?”

“No.” The short answer had Cyra fumbling for another question.

“What is your name, sir?” A fair question that would be answered with truth or a lie. But how would she know either way?

“Ivar Selvik, your Highness.” The light in Ivar’s eyes shone with pride, and Cyra determined he was telling the truth.

“And your profession? I haven’t seen or heard you around the palace.”

“I came with the Northern King and Queen; I am their composer.”

“A composer?” Ivar nodded, holding his moraharpa close. “How long have you been composing music?”

“Ever since I was a little boy, I was gifted with the ability to sing by the goddess Vykaris. However, I was certainly passed over by her dancing twin Dimaris.” The half-joke made Cyra break into a smile, which made Ivar smile a little in turn. “You must be seeking refuge from the deluge of thoughts surrounding your wedding.” Cyra cocked her head at him, and he returned the look, searching her face for the answer. She could see the pending inquiry of his face, but it was a question he would not ask, and she didn’t know the answer to quite yet.

“Only you know the answer to your own unspoken question,” Cyra replied instead, licking her lips as she turned to face the setting sun to avoid his knowledgeable gaze.

“Might I give a little advice?” The man wondered, and Cyra nodded.

“Sage wisdom is always welcome.”

“Sometimes you worry about the wrong things, your Highness. There are much bigger things you need to be concerned about, and I know you are aware of this fact.” Cyra did not answer him, but he continued anyway. “The gods visit your dreams; I can see it in your eyes. And you are afraid of what visions they will send you. Do not be afraid of the gods, your Highness, or their visions. Instead, ask yourself upon awakening: what do the gods want me to glean from this message? Dreams are merely harvests of things we think on in our waking lives… so what are the gods planting in your life right now?”

Cyra frowned, looking back at Ivar with an unsettling realization. “Strife. Discord. Fear.”

“I beg to differ. I see harmony, unity, and confidence.” Ivar tossed back. “Fret not, your marriage will go as it ought to. Everything is as it should be, Princess.”

“How do you know this?” Cyra asked incredulously. Ivar tilted his head slightly, listening to the wind as he formulated his answer.

“I have my ways of knowing things, just like you have your ways of knowing things.” Ivar shifted, turning away. “I bid you good evening, Princess. I look forward to our next encounter.”

“Wait, Ivar, you never told me what language you sing in.”

“I sing in Acotesh.” The harsh syllables hit her ears, and Cyra shook her head, not understanding. It was not a language she knew of.

“What language is that?” Ivar gave her a knowing smile before replying,

“It is the language of the gods.” The composer turned and walked away, disappearing into the sunset with his instrument, humming a song Cyra wished she knew the words to.

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