Ropes & Pages
“You’ll walk in front of the flower girl and… stop at the dais!” Bilka called out instructions from her perch at the top of the portico, dressed to the nines in some of her best fineries while she orchestrated the “wedding of the century,” as she called it. Her high pitched voice carried across the garden, each fluctuation emphasized for dramatic effect.
Cyra stood behind her, watching her friends participate in the rehearsal wedding while Halewijn stood on the dais constructed for the occasion. Alorha stood by her side, making snide comments at the unsightliness of the whole charade - everything was white and gold, which reflected the sunlight so no one could see in front of them.
“And the High King will walk down the aisle…” Bilka continued, standing ahead of Cyra and motioning for a male servant - a stand-in for the High King - to walk down the aisle. “And then the mother of the bride…”
“Do you think she’ll ever get to the bride walking down the aisle?” Alorha joked, and Cyra hit him with her fake bouquet, making him laugh even harder.
“Then the High Council members, in twos…”
“Perhaps I’ll come in after the goats and the cows of the High King,” Cyra hissed back. Alorha doubled over in laughter, clutching at his stomach while his shoulder shook furiously.
“And the little doves will be released!”
“Then they’ll shit all over the guests!” Alorha took the same high pitch as her mother, mocking her quietly without calling attention to himself. “Then the servants will clean up the guests…” Cyra fought the laughter as well, clutching onto her flowers with all her might to prevent her from cracking up out loud.
“Stop, Alorha!” She hissed, but the fits of laughter were already coming as Bilka continued calling out random events.
“Ivar will begin the Song to Ghiana, and the Princess will come out from her place behind the glass doors…” Cyra took her cue to walk out from behind the portico doors and proceed down the steps. “Take it slow… let others see you…” Bilka advised, and Cyra slowed her steps. Keeping her eyes on Halewijn, she imagined that this might be the real thing.
Hal stood at the top of the dais, hands behind his back as he watched her intently and seriously. Cyra made a face, sticking her tongue out at him, which made him laugh. Despite his finery and position in the court, Halewijn was still a man, she reasoned. He was still a man who needed joy and love in his life and who would become High King one day.
One day soon…
When she met him at the dais, Bilka rushed down the aisle to announce the next steps. While she directed the events, Cyra turned to Halewijn and whispered, “How long do you think the wedding will last in its entirety? And what do I do if I need to pee?”
“You go over to the bush or hedge and take a moment to relieve yourself,” Halewijn laughed, and Cyra laughed along with him. “It should only last an hour and a half. I try to keep my engagements short, so we can get to the festivities and enjoy our time.”
“But we have Ostara…” Cyra replied, blinking. Halewijn exhaled, pressing his fingers to the bridge of his nose. “You forgot?”
“And then Ivar will begin to read the vows…” Bilka echoed behind them.
“I did. I’ve been so swamped thinking about other things…” The expression on Hal’s face changed back to the serious stare he wore more often now, and Cyra nudged him, hoping to shock him out of his gaze.
“Hey, it’s not a big deal. I’m doing most of the work anyway. I sacrifice the ox, I bathe in its blood, and then it’s done.” Halewijn glanced over at Cyra, his golden eyes twinkling as he thought about the feast and not having to make too much of an effort.
“You make it seem so easy.” He whispered just as Bilka came up behind them, full of concern.
“Did you two hear anything I just said?” Cyra and Hal’s empty looks told Bilka all she needed to know. “Stop being so concerned with the kissing part, please! You two have to say your vows before that.” When Bilka walked away, still shouting directions to everyone present, Cyra looked back up at Hal, who smiled down at her with his brows raised.
“Two more days.” He noted.
“Two more days.” Cyra echoed.
Within the sounds of the garden, ever-present music seemed to mimic the life around it. Cyra found herself drawn to Ivar the Composer again, observing the reverberations of his musical voice and the call of the tagelharpa in his lap. While he sang a slow and mournful tune, Cyra felt her heart swelling at the sounds, recalling the years spent with Gunnar and the time they would spend riding in the Southern Court. What would he say if he could see her now?
Ivar paused on the tagelharpa strings as if he had heard her thoughts and stilled for a moment.
“You are troubled, still.” Cyra looked up at the man, altogether noticing him in the sunlight of the midday. “Would you like to discuss your troubles with me? Or would you prefer to listen to me play instead?”
“You cannot fix my problems, I’m afraid.” Cyra whispered, sinking into the grass beside him.
“I could try.” Ivar offered her a timid smile, but she shook her head in denial.
“I’m sorry, Ivar.” The composer shrugged, pulling the bow across one string.
“Do not be sorry, Princess. There is nothing to be upset over. You are simply a person with troubles, like all humans.”
“Do you have troubles, Ivar?” The composer laughed heartily, dropping the bow in his lap.
“Oh, so many, your Highness. It isn’t unusual for me to moan to the gods about my woes while I’m singing.” Cyra smiled wryly, thinking about the possible problems a composer could have. “I’m not Oskurgan, your Highness.” Shock danced across Cyra’s face as she looked at the man.
“Fully, your Highness.” The realization made her hesitant, though. Wasn’t it just yesterday that Queen Hannah rebuked her for being affiliated with Wyndemere, Alorha, and Maribel?
“Does your Queen know?”
“She does,” Ivar sighed, lacing his fingers together. “And she has bound me to be part of the Northern court, or else she will turn me in to Omar.”
“But she brought you here?” Cyra wondered, frowning. “That makes no sense.”
“I volunteered to come here. I heard…” Ivar paused, thinking about his words carefully. “I heard I might be of some use to you two with the wedding and the musical aspects.” It was a blatant lie, but Cyra reasoned that it was about something important, or else he would have shared the truth. Ivar was a man with nothing to lose, it seemed, except his head.
“Have you ever considered just running away?” She asked, but Ivar quickly shook his head.
“Hannah is not a terrible master. She has given me an endless source of money to make the many instruments I now use for my music. I could not carry them all with me should I desire to escape, and some are made from priceless items I may never come across again.”
“Princess, it is one thing to be bound in marriage to someone and be forced to live your days with them. It is another thing when your master gives you the rope with which to bind yourself, and you do so unknowingly.” The look Cyra gave him was full of pity and sadness. How could one man be so saddled with misfortune and sorrow yet allow himself to sing so beautifully?
“You’re a caged bird, sir. Yet you sing from behind bars, wishing someday to be free.” Ivar looked to the sky wistfully. “Would you ever give up singing to become a free man?”
“Should I ever become a free man,” Ivar began. “I would never stop singing. You cannot let those who wish to destroy you hold your song captive as well. I sing because it is the only act of defiance I have to wield in my favor.”
“And it is a powerful weapon,” Cyra added, nodding thoughtfully. Ivar nodded as well before beginning a lighter, more joyful tune.
Nighttime fell upon the palace slowly, like a thief methodically stole the sunshine bit by bit after the noon hour. The winding down routine - dishes being cleared, linens being changed, maids and manservants turning in for the evening - were just wrapping up, and Cyra herself sat in her room, reading Halewijn’s stories of the gods.
As she flipped the gilded pages, she wondered what life would be like to be descended directly from the gods, like the First King. Or what life would be like if she was a goddess. Would she meddle with the fates of men or be resigned to watching the world destroy itself in the hopes of saving itself?
Before she could muse upon her answer, a flash of white darted past her balcony doors. The movement - as unusual as sightings of animals at night could be - spurred Cyra out of her bed and to the balcony. Just as she exited, she caught a glimpse of the white bird fluttering into a room on the lower floor. She then heard a voice that she recognized to be Armantha’s, and despite something in her warning her to stay in her own room, Cyra felt the need to investigate was much more potent. At the very least, she might save her friend from a horrible bird accident!
Taking to the stairs, Cyra found herself growing more curious by the minute. She wasn’t aware of Armantha owning a white bird, or any animals, for that matter. It seemed that Armantha had an unwanted visitor, but Cyra would quickly help correct that.
However, when she got to her chamber door, there seemed to be a conversation already taking place. There was no commotion about a bird and certainly no yelling or frightened tones. As Cyra pushed open the door unannounced, it appeared that there was another woman in the room; one who she had never encountered or seen before.
The short woman spun around to face Cyra quickly, and her ocean blue eyes caught the Princess off-guard. The feeling of an otherworldly presence overwhelmed Cyra, and she quickly averted her eyes from the woman’s piercing stare to look at Armantha.
“A… a bird flew in, and I… I came…”
“You can’t be in here,” Armantha hissed, marching over to Cyra and placing her hands on her shoulders. “Leave. Now.”
“No, no,” The short woman protested, eyes roving over Cyra’s figure casually. “Let her stay.” Armantha snatched her hands from Cyra’s shoulders and let her fully enter the room, leading her to a high-backed, velvet chair. “Hello, my name is Branwen.” The short-haired woman stuck her hand out to Cyra, and she warily shook it, eyeing the woman carefully.
“I’ve never seen you around the palace before,” The Princess whispered, now looking into the woman’s eyes. “Where are you from?”
“Oh, I come every full moon to speak with Armantha.” Branwen tilted her head, letting her black hair lay smoothly against her face. “You’re Cyra, aren’t you?”
“Ah, I’ve heard so much about you. How do you feel about becoming a newlywed soon?” The woman leaned closer to Cyra, making her lean back in the chair, so their faces weren’t so close. “It must be exciting; getting married to someone you love is a luxury, isn’t it?”
“Yes… a luxury…” A chill ran down Cyra’s back at the way Branwen examined her, but Armantha quickly drew attention to herself by clearing her throat.
“In any case, Branwen, I should see you out. I have a long day tomorrow - avoiding Hannah and trying to keep Leon’s paws off of me.” Armantha eagerly led the woman to the door, but before she could shut it on Branwen, she tossed over her shoulder:
“It was nice to finally meet you, Princess Cyra. I would like to speak with you more sometime!” Once she finished, Armantha shut the door without so much as a goodnight, leaning against it with her eyes closed. Cyra let her recover, knowing their conversation had been cut short by her intrusion but not caring.
“She seems very kind.” The withering look Armantha shot her silenced all following comments from Cyra.
“She’s very nosey; that’s what she is.” Silence settled in around them, and Cyra looked to the now-closed balcony door curiously.
“There wasn’t a white bird that flew in here?”
“I swear you imagine the silliest things, Cyra. You and Mirabel are one and the same.” Armantha walked over to her bed, fiddling with the bedsheets in preparation to settle into them. Cyra took this opportunity to ask a question that had been bugging her the entire afternoon.
“Do you know about Ivar?” Armantha’s hands stilled on the top sheet, and her brown eyes flicked to Cyra’s face.
“What of him? Is he doing alright?”
“He’s well. I spoke with him earlier this afternoon in the garden. I must say, he is extremely talented.” Armantha shook her head, looking down at the bed with an expression Cyra could only describe as concern.
“He is too talented for his own good, I’m afraid.” She muttered.
“What do you mean by that?” The question shook Armantha out of her thoughts, and she looked at Cyra sharply.
“Nothing. You should go to bed. Everything is alright here.” Not wanting to outstay her welcome, Cyra stood and walked towards the door.
“Good night,” She called out, but Armantha didn’t respond. When Cyra opened the door, something rustled in the corner between the door frame and the wall; she watched a small white feather dance about in the air. In haste, Cyra snatched it up, placing it in her pocket before leaving the room quickly and quietly.