Crimes & Fields
Warm air breezed past Cyra’s face as she basked in the warmth of the solarium. With an open book in her lap and Mirabel chatting with Idria, Cyra continued to think about her situation. There was very little she could do to fix anything with a day until the wedding, but there were minor issues here and there that could be addressed with minimal effort. No expense would be spared so that she could enjoy her last day as a single woman in peace.
“Do you think you’ll—” The doors to the solarium flew open, cutting Mirabel off mid-sentence.
“Excuse me, Your Highness,” A footman bowed politely, and Cyra waved her hand.
“Your presence is requested in the High Council chambers.” Mirabel and Idria frowned at the request, but the lady-in-waiting extended her hand for Cyra to deposit her book.
“Mark my place at page forty-nine,” Cyra called out, dusting her green silk skirts off before walking out with the footman.
The walk to the High Council chambers felt long and arduous. Winding marble staircases, bricked-in windows, and a massive set of gold-colored wood doors stood between Cyra and the other members of the High Council. All five courts were gathered around a long war table in silence, and the footman gracefully bowed to the group before shutting the golden door with care.
Twenty pairs of eyes focused in on the Princess, who quickly found her place in an empty armchair next to Halewijn. While most of the familiar faces smiled, only Omar and Hannah did not; their gazes focused on her face more intently and without kindness. However, Cyra paid them no mind, crossing her hands in her lap before waiting for someone to begin to speak.
“As you all are fully aware, my son’s wedding will take place tomorrow. I have gathered you all here to affirm the marriage license and perhaps speak freely on the logistics of the marriage while we are still able.” Omar looked around the table at the other royals as he spoke, fixing each of them - except Cyra and Halewijn - with his stern, golden gaze. No one spoke immediately, their eyes roving across each other’s or around the bright room to avoid being called upon. Cyra looked to her mother, who gave her a quick smile and returned her eyes back to Omar afterward, but no one else caught her gaze.
“I shall speak, then,” Smyrna offered, standing up from her cushioned seat. “I am most certainly pleased that Cyra has found such a smart, capable, and devoted husband to accompany her. Ever since we lost Gunnar, I wasn’t sure she would ever re-engage herself.” Her mother and father nodded, affirming the depth of the truth shared. “But she and Halewijn make such a stunning and affectionate pair that I am glad everything is as it should be.” Hums of agreement echoed around the table.
“I should go ahead and say how proud I am,” Bilka beamed, looking at Halewijn and Cyra. “There have been many, many things we have endured. But you stand tall, Cyra, and with Halewijn beside you, nothing and no one can stop you. I am infinitely proud of who you have become and all that you will be.” Cyra smiled at her mother, feeling tears prick at the corners of her eyes. Halewijn took Cyra’s hand in his, kissing it tenderly and holding it to his chest.
“You are too kind, your Highness.” He murmured, and Bilka held both of her hands to her chest, brimming with pride.
“We haven’t known you long, Cyra, but Halewijn, we have known for a while,” Marcell began, pushing his salt and pepper hair back. “And I think I am not the only one who sees how much joy he feels when he is around you, Princess Cyra. It brings me and my wife immense pleasure to know he will be cared for and loved by you.”
“I think I speak for everyone, then, when I say that this marriage has brought life back into the High Court after a trying few decades, then,” Leon interjected, nodding at the others around the table.
“A ’trying few decades’?” Hannah spoke, and the rancor in her tone did not go unnoticed. “Leon, what I think you mean to say is that this is an opportunity for all of us to get drunk and party for a few days before we go back to our separate hovels.”
“Let me be frank: this marriage is nothing but two people joining for political reasons, am I right, Halewijn?”
“Your Highness, you speak without measuring your words,” Halewijn warned, holding Cyra’s hand just a fraction tighter.
“And Cyra, you originally accepted based on the fact that he would provide for you and your family in status and in wealth. You were not in love, I presume.”
“Hold your tongue, Hannah.” Lynna snapped, in a rare show of anger. “You speak out of your disdain for happiness since you are not happily married.”
“I speak of what I know,” Hannah scowled back.
“Now, now,” Omar waved his hands at the bickering royals, dispersing the tension in the room with his authority. “We are here to make well-wishes to the couple, not shit on their pending nuptials. Hannah, if this is not pleasing to your sensibilities, I would advise that you leave the room until you have collected yourself.” Hannah glared at Omar silently, closing her mouth.
“Right, let us all sign this marriage license, then.” The document, a long roll of parchment paper with the regal seal - a lion-griffin with a tall crown - sat with various empty spots for each royal to sign. Cyra and Halewijn signed at the top, and the other nine royals signed at the bottom as witnesses.
Once they scribbled their names onto the document, Omar folded the paper into thirds, stamped the seal to close the record, and placed it in the hand of an awaiting footman.
“Now that all of that is done,” Halewijn pushed back from the table, adjusting his tunic as he stood. “I am inclined to say a few things. First, thank you for coming to our wedding; it comforts me to know that we are among friends. Secondly, the more pressing matter at hand.” Cyra captured Hal’s hand in protest, knowing what he was about to say and the gravity thereof.
“Please, no,” Cyra hissed, lacing her fingers through his. Halewijn kept his hand still, not allowing himself to be swayed by the pleas of his betrothed.
“My father has committed grave crimes against my fiancee, the Southern Court, and other people within these very walls.”
“Halewijn, no—” Bilka called out, clutching her collarbone in fear.
“What crimes do you speak of?” Leon wondered, sitting forward in his own chair with a deepening frown.
“Let him continue,” Omar muttered, holding a hand up and squinting his eyes at his only heir. Cyra felt the emotions radiating off of him like she felt it at the engagement party: a mixture of pure anger and embarrassment. Danger, she thought, but no words could stop Halewijn now.
“I have seen and heard of many things my own flesh and blood has done to mutilate beyond repair those who are innocent, and I have been silent too long.” Halewijn let go of Cyra’s hand to point a tanned finger at Omar. “This man is not fit to rule a kingdom. I challenge his claim to the throne with a holmgang, and we will let the gods decide who is fit to rule in two days.”
The tension in the room between all of the royals was almost palatable. Cyra’s heart beat so hard that she swore everyone else in the room could hear it as well, but no one spoke, eyes switching to each other’s faces in absolute horror. Omar cleared his throat and proceeded to spread his hands across the table, preparing to say something.
“What specific crimes do you allege I have committed?” He asked gravely, staring into Halewijn’s eyes, which were a mirror of his own.
“Murder of not one, but two people, attempted murder, and rape, which was premeditated. All of these crimes were committed against various royal families over five years.”
“And you have proof of these crimes?” Omar inquired saucily.
“If he had proof,” — Leon interrupted — “then we would commence a trial against you based on the accusations laid bare here. But a holmgang requires no proof. The decision of the gods will be made evident, as they see all and know the hearts of men.” Omar’s nostrils flared at this comment, but he kept his mouth shut.
“I need a simple majority of the council members gathered here to approve this. That means five out of the nine present will suffice.” Smyrna and Aethelwulf immediately raised their hands in assent. Bilka and Ekbert followed, which left Lynna, Leon, Marcell, and Hannah to choose whether they would accept the alternative trial.
Lynna chose this moment to shakily raise her hand, followed by Marcell and Leon, with Hannah and Omar being the only ones without their hands raised.
“I thank you all for your approval.” Halewijn bowed slightly before straightening back up and facing his father with a scowl. “And I will see you on the field in two days.”