Inne Og Ute
Cyra awoke the next morning from a dreamless sleep, undoubtedly soothed by the composer’s words from the previous night. The music Ivar played, and his soft voice stuck with her the entire evening, the melody repeating over and over, easing her rest and lulling her to sleep. She rose from her bed, feeling refreshed, and walked into the bathroom, yawning with satisfaction. Mirabel sat in the bathroom, brushing her own hair, stilling as Cyra entered lazily.
“I haven’t slept that well in a long time…” She exhaled, stripping out of her nightgown and washing her face.
Mirabel drew a bath without asking, tossing rose and sandalwood oil into the water before helping Cyra into the warmth. Aches and pains she didn’t realize she had been holding onto instantly relaxed in hot water, and Cyra exhaled in bliss. The moment lasted only a second, as Cyra realized Mirabel’s silence meant she had severe information to share.
“I have news about the Northern Kingdom,” Mirabel murmured as she combed through Cyra’s hair.
“Tell me everything.”
“The ladies of the court say that Hannah and Armantha could be heard arguing in the hallway last night. It seems that Hannah and Leon are more estranged than we thought.” Cyra took the soap bar from the ledge of the bathtub, cocking her head slightly as she thought about the implications of this information.
“Hannah is not pleased with the recent development that Omar is sweet on Armantha too, I’m sure.” She scoffed, rubbing the soap over her arms and chest.
“She truly despises Armantha. We could use this negative portrayal to our advantage, though.” The Princess’s hands stilled.
“How so?” Cyra wondered, but somehow she already knew what cards she would need to play to win over Hannah’s favor.
“Connect with Hannah over the story you believed before you met Armantha. I’m sure the Northern Queen would be delighted to discover that she is not the only one who does not tolerate harlotry.” Mirabel mused, twisting Cyra’s hair into a braid. Cyra dropped her arms into the water, cleaning them of the soap bubbles that had accumulated. Deceit. That was the only way she could win over the frostiest court. The sinking feeling in her stomach returned with full force.
“But what about the end result? What if Hannah finds out I’ve been working with Armantha all along?”
“It won’t matter.” Mirabel shrugged. “Once she finds out, you’ll be High Queen, and no one will be able to take that from you.” The thought of the High Queen’s crown on Cyra’s head felt even heavier than the crown she would wear as High Princess, which made the sinking feeling in her stomach only deepen. It seemed that the depths she would have to stoop to so she could win were getting lower and lower.
With the information from Mirabel and the direction for one of Hannah’s ladies-in-waiting, Cyra made her way down to the solarium on the West Wing, hoping that Hannah would be alone so she could plant the seed in her mind that she was a friend, not an enemy. How easy that would be appeared to be a coin-toss. Hannah was the only unknown factor in the kingdom, with her allegiances falling somewhere between Omar and her own philandering husband. A single conversation might help ease her onto the helping side of the battle, Cyra reasoned, pushing open the doors to the glass room with ease.
Inside the solarium - which was bright enough to momentarily blind Cyra - Hannah sat at a table close to the windows, sipping a cup of tea alone. Hannah’s black hair lay across her back like a horse’s mane - thick, shiny, and neatly brushed - perhaps a hundred times as a chore for her maids to complete nightly. The light-skinned woman seemed to be engrossed in her own thoughts as she mindlessly sipped from the teacup while turned to the expanse outside. Perhaps the Queen had come down to the solarium for a moment of peace, seeking solitude instead of gossiping with her ladies-in-waiting.
“Your Highness,” Cyra called out, and the woman turned to face her, training her wide hazel eyes on the lone figure waiting by the doors.
“You may enter. What do you want?” The sharp edge of the Queen’s tone did not go unnoticed as the Princess drew closer. This was not going well already, and Cyra hadn’t even begun to truly converse with her.
“I would like to speak with you.” The sound of the teacup clinking on the saucer echoed in the room, and the woman raised her brows.
“I think we started off on the wrong foot. I’m convinced you may have the wrong impression of me.”
“And that would be?” The leading questions made Cyra feel like a child, but if this swayed Hannah’s mind in her favor, she would take it on the chin.
“You think I am a friend of your enemy. That is not true. I am your friend first, and I am loyal to those on the High Council, only second to my husband-to-be.” The Queen frowned, examining Cyra from her head to her feet in a dismissive way.
“You think I consider you to be an enemy?” Hannah’s laughter was not at all joyous. It sounded more like a harsh cackle, like those one might hear from a vengeful witch. “No, silly girl. I do not consider you an enemy. But that doesn’t mean I am not observing you.” Hannah rolled her neck back and forth between her shoulders, losing the tension there. “I know what company you like to keep, with those filthy half-Beyonders waltzing around the palace like they are fully Oskurgan and that whore of a woman.” She spat, straightening her neck again. “Be careful of the people you surround yourself with, Cyra. Sometimes you may find that they aren’t people at all.” Hannah turned back to the window, picking up her teacup and waving Cyra off without another word. The Princess took this dismissal for what it was and left the miserable woman alone.
“She said some harsh words,” Halewijn muttered, placing his pen down on the map paper again and resting his head on a propped up fist.
“I just don’t understand how she could call Armantha, Alorha, Wyndemere, and Mirabel ‘not people’.” Cyra paced the floor, feeling the rage of the situation build in her stomach. “I mean, we all know she’s Queen of the North, but does she remember that? That’s not how you talk about those who help the crown!” A sigh. “When I am High Queen, she will regret those words.”
Halewijn’s hand dropped to the table in what felt like a slam but sounded like a dull thud. “Cyra, our position is not one to abuse with petty retaliations.” Halewijn fixed Cyra with a stern stare. “We are here to do one thing, and that is to stop my father from causing any more trouble or pain. Beyond that, we are just like any other person on the High Court. Is that clear?” The rebuke stung harsher than Cyra expected, but she nodded anyway.
“Understood.” She whispered, looking out of the window to mask her embarrassment; she had lost her cool, and unnecessarily so.
“I empathize with your anger and frustration. However, we have to work the court like we said we would. Right now, things are in our favor, and they look good… but anything can happen between now and the holmgang.” Cyra circle around the table and placed her hands on Hal’s shoulders.
“I know, my love.” Halewijn looked up at her and smiled brightly, erasing the pensive look on his face.
“But before that, we are due to be married, and I cannot wait to see you walk down that aisle.”
“Is that so?” Cyra teased, leaning forward, so her braid fell over her shoulder. Halewijn chuckled softly, his golden eyes dancing with playfulness and a hint of longing as he stretched his hand back to touch her cheek.
“That is so, light of my life.” Cyra pressed a tender kiss to his lips and felt the High Price moan a little underneath her. When she pulled away, Halewijn whispered, “Will you come to see me tonight?”
“Should I come to see you tonight?” Cyra retorted in a whisper, and the grin Hal gave in response was mischievous, bordering on wicked.
“I say you should.”
“I shall have to take your suggestion into consideration, then.” She let go of his shoulders and, after throwing a smirk back at him, sashayed away.
Wyndemere found Halewijn in his guest room, still hunched over the floor plans for the new temple.
“High Prince, we need to talk.” At the sound of Wyndemere’s stern tone, Halewijn straightened up and turned his brown head towards the royal guard. “It’s about the holmgang.”
“What of it?” Halewijn asked, turning around in his seat. Wyndemere thought about his words, reminding himself that even though Halewijn was one of themes level-headed people he personally knew, the High Prince had the propensity to get angry. Especially when it came to his bride-to-be.
“I wanted to speak with you about the arrangement we have with the Skaruskans and the other courts. I know Cyra well, and I know you’ve spoken to her about all of the possibilities on that day. But what happens if we fail to get her out of the country in time?”
Halewijn frowned and tilted his head slightly, precisely the same way he looked at Wyndemere the day Cyra came back injured from her ride in the woods. Wyndemere could feel Halewijn’s frustration from a mile away. “You’re saying there’s a possibility that you could fail to secure her safety on that day?” The question was rhetorical because the answer should have been ‘no,’ but Wyndemere opened his mouth to give the High Prince an honest answer.
“Your Highness, anything could happen the day of the holmgang. Alorha and I have considered every possibility, but it’s evident that should you die, we work against a clock set up for us to fail. We should be reali—”
“Realistically, you should be prepared for any and all outcomes. I do not anticipate losing, Wyndemere, but your part of this plan should be airtight.” He hissed; Wyndemere took a step back, sensing Halewijn’s ire building.
“Complete and total preparedness is what were are trying to achieve.” Wyndemere insisted, holding a hand to his chest, and Halewijn sighed, pressing his lips together in defeat.
“If Cyra falls into Omar’s hands, you will not be able to do anything to help her. I would’ve suggested that you teach her how to defend herself, but there is no time to teach swordsmanship or tactical fighting. We’re a few days away from the wedding, and it would be too burdensome for her at this point.”
“I know you have her best interests in mind.” Another sigh from the High Prince. Halewijn placed his forehead in his hands and shook his head from side to side. Suddenly, Wyndemere understood Halewijn’s position: he was tired. No doubt he was running from making sure Cyra was safe, to watching his own back, to keeping an eye on his father… The exhaustion in Halewijn’s eyes was evident, and Wyndemere wondered - if for a moment - that the High Prince was preparing for his defeat because he knew the probability of being slain was high.
“There’s so much that we cannot predict. I just need absolute certainty that you can make everything go according to plan; I can’t let Cyra fall into Omar’s hands again.”
“You have my word and my honor, your Highness.” Wyndemere bowed low, and as he lifted up, he said a quick prayer to Rhadros, Shekmir, and Usasis that Halewijn would not lose his fight internally or externally.