Scythes & Candles
“You will take the scythe and pull it neatly across the ox’s neck…” The stable master handed Cyra the weapon without hesitation, seemingly entirely bored with the Ostara preparations. The Princess chose this time to tune him out, looking about the large tent where the festival would begin with more interest.
The off-white tarp covered a massive space of grass, and servants ran about marking where the standing room would end, and the royal seating would begin. While she stood underneath the gigantic piece of fabric, she missed one of her favorite parts of the pre-festival activities: watching the royal children arrive with their nannies and governesses. The procession-watching had become something Mirabel and her observed year after year, betting on who would be the best behaved and who would be the worst behaved or most flamboyant. Cyra always lost the bets, but the fun was not in the betting - it still remained in the watching from a high perch.
Now she was stuck with an unamused stableman who would prefer to tend to horses than instruct her on how to take the ox’s life.
“We will have you change out of your wedding gown before you make the sacrifice.” Cyra’s head snapped to face the man in haste.
“I’m sorry, what did you say?”
“We will have you change out of your gown. High King Omar sent the word this afternoon that he would prefer you change into the white priestess robes.” Omar wanted her to change clothes. No matter how hard Cyra thought about the fact, she could not think of one way this could be used against her.
“W-what do they look like?” She stuttered, caught completely off guard.
“I wouldn’t know. We haven’t had a priestess on these grounds for almost an entire decade, so that information would predate me.” The stable master cleared his throat and continued on with his speech about the significance of the blood of a white ox, but all Cyra could think on was the white robes and why Omar would save her wedding gown.
Candlelight flickered in the guest room, making shapes dance on the walls and play tricks on Cyra’s restless mind.
In less than twenty-four hours, she would be married.
It was not the thought of being married that made her melancholic, however. It was the idea that she would be married and possibly widowed the very next day that haunted her, followed by a vision of Gunnar in his dying moments. Her hands crawled up her arms and rested o her shoulders, and Cyra held herself for what felt like forever.
Thoughts about the possibilities ravaged her mind like they had the day before, but now in a more sinister way. Omar could kill her if he won - or worse: he could make her his concubine. The latter option scared her even more than the possibility of death. Having to relive her worst nightmare night after night would be like swallowing poison in hopes that death would relieve you… and waking up morning after morning, never dying.
The sound of the door sliding open shook her from her thoughts, and Cya leaned back a little to see who was coming through the door. Halewijn’s brown waves rounded the corner before his nose, and then his perfect lips curved into a smile. The smile reached his sweet, honey-colored eyes while his lashes batted the air playfully. But when he noticed Cyra hugging herself, the smile disappeared entirely.
“What’s wrong?” He did not rush to her side as she sat alone in the armchair, instead choosing to stand between her and the door precariously.
“Just some pre-wedding jitters,” She shrugged, and he nodded in understanding.
“Everything is going to go according to plan. Don’t worry.”
“Have you come to my chambers to request a lovemaking session, your Highness?” Cyra asked, changing the subject and flicking her hair over her shoulder seductively.
“Not entirely,” He laughed, approaching her with purpose. The dark blue thread of his night clothes shone in the candlelight like the blanket of darkness drawn across the stars, and part of Cyra wondered who took the time to make such an understated but alluring garment. The other part focused on the small wooden box he held in his hands and offered it to her hesitantly. “This is my wedding present for you. I hadn’t seen you all day, so I wanted to take the time to exchange our gifts before tomorrow.”
Taking the mahogany box with care, Cyra opened the box without reservation. Inside lay a silver armband, the ends of which were shaped like the heads of open-mouthed wolves.
“The Ash Wolf heads will protect you and keep you from harm and danger while you wear it. No lesser danger will dare cross the path of the ultimate danger-bringer. It’s like pitting the god of death against a spirit, or so they say.” He took the armband from her hand and slid it onto her right arm. Despite the cold metal making her flinch, the band fit snugly on her upper arm.
“I think we both bought talismans of protection for each other,” Cyra mentioned and unfolded herself from the armchair. After padding to her closet, she opened the doors slowly to reveal the velvet coat she purchased from the shop in the city. “The man who made this said that it would give you power whenever you wore it.” Holding the amalgamation of cloth in her hands, Cyra took one last look over it before handing it to Halewijn. He extended his arms with the item back as if to examine it, eyeing the stitching carefully.
“This is exquisite stitching; whoever made this must be a master sewer.”
“He was actually sort of an asshole,” Cyra remembered. “But I got it for you because I think you’ll look very handsome in it.” The smile Halewijn gave her was sheepish, and he placed the coat on the back of the chair before closing the space between them.
“Just think: less than seven months ago, you wanted nothing to do with me.” He tilted her chin up with his index finger, running his thumb across her bottom lip mindfully. “And tomorrow, I get to marry you. I must be the luckiest man alive.”
“Well,” Cyra began, lazily blinking in the dim light of the room. “I can’t say that you aren’t incredibly charming and driven with passion, not to mention handsome and caring.”
“I am flattered by your compliments, my love,” Hal noted, dipping his head lower, so their lips almost touched.
“Is the so?” Cyra whispered, angling her head a little closer. “I don’t give them out often, you know…”
“Ah… I am luckier than god and man, indeed.” Halewijn breathed, pressing his lips against hers after finishing his comment. Cyra hummed her approval, weaving her hands in his hair as he cradled her chin with his left hand and cupped her waist in his right. But the kiss ended as soon as it began, Halewijn pulling away quickly to recover. “Not tonight,” He gasped, eyes still closed.
“Not tonight?” Cyra echoed in confusion, watching as Halewijn removed her fingers from his hair. He kissed each hand’s knuckles, then proceeded to bring her into an embrace.
“You need to be well-rested for tomorrow, and I can’t guarantee that I won’t have you wrapped up in the sheets all night. Rest for me, little bird, and tomorrow night I will be all yours.” He placed a tender kiss on the top of her curls and then stepped away from her.
As he left her presence, Cyra wanted to reach out and beg him to stay, beg him to hold her the entire night and not let go even when the sun rose. But she let him go, knowing he would return the next morning like a faithful raven.