A Tale of Crowns and Stars

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Rain and Spines

The rain descended upon the palace that night and didn’t relent the next morning.

Cyra tinkered with the final cylinder on her night table, softly singing some words to a song she used to know as an item rattled inside. The door clicked open in the semi-darkness, and Mirabel entered quietly, holding a book in her hands. Cyra instantly recognized it as the book whose spine she had broken the day before, so she reached out to examine it. When Mirabel placed it in her hands, however, the book’s spine felt sturdy and repaired.

“Your groom-to-be repaired it last night,” Mirabel answered, grinning. As soon as the words left Mirabel’s mouth, a crack of lightning and the following thunder crashed across the sky. “He’s still in the library if you want to share your thanks...” She suggested, shrugging as she took a seat on one of the ottomans.

The door to the library was heavy, but Cyra managed to squeeze through it. It remained one of the three entries in the palace to be unguarded as a symbol to all people that knowledge was for everyone. She dusted off her merlot silk gown before looking around the wide expanse of the room. The vast library held all kinds of books: historical records, poetry, music, classic novels, even some self-published findings of her own. The smell of the room - an old smell that either came from the books or the antique paintings, no one could quite determine - enveloped her, and she inhaled the scent of her teenage years. She spent many days and nights in the library, devouring any book she could before the sound of her mother calling her name began. The sweet haven had become less and less available to her, simply because she could no longer spend as much time reading about whatever she wished. Now she spent time bent over foreign policy and treaties, not fantasy novels and poetry.

Cyra began her task of searching for Halewijn on the left side of the library, peering through bookshelves and the desks along the back wall. When it was apparent that the left side was empty, she traveled over to the right side, almost immediately coming upon him, sitting at a desk with a book in his hand. At the sight of her, he took in her attire. Unabashedly, he let his eyes travel from her feet to her eyes in a lazy roam, then he straightened up from his hunched position, still dressed in his nightclothes. Glue and a sharp stick sat to the right of the book on his worktable.

“You fixed my novel.” She spoke softly, the rain resuming its beating on the windows as lightning flashed. “Thank you.” Halewijn tipped his head forward slightly in a slow nod, his eyes still transfixed on hers.

“Your lady could’ve brought your thanks.” He whispered, his gaze unwavering.

“I suppose she could have.” Silence. A deafening thunderclap. The windows rattled.

“You wanted to see me for yourself.” His gaze returned to the book suddenly, and he picked up the glue, running it along the crease of the book page methodically. Cyra could not confirm or deny that statement. But her visage in the red dress with her hair cascading around her shoulders - like her mother’s - told him all he needed to know. She opened her mouth, but nothing would come out as she watched him mend the book, then pull another broken book from an unseen stack.

“You’re mending all of our books...”

“It’s a little project your mother encouraged me to take up. At least I can at least fix something around here.” He muttered, hunching over his work again.

“Was that a reference to my brokenness?” She laughed, but somewhere she felt a stab of embarrassment and shame. Halewijn’s eyes shot up again, meeting hers in a stare whose origins she couldn’t quite identify.

“You’re not broken, Cyra.” He stated thoughtfully before going back to the book. “You’re perfectly whole.” She blinked at him, his words cooling her heated face and somehow, warming the void in her heart. Silently, she turned to leave, feeling the High Prince’s eyes on her the entire time.

Mirabel sat quietly, her face devoid of expression.

“Well?” Cyra turned to her, crossing her arms.

“He said the words’ you’re not broken’?” The lady lifted a brow, her chin lowering a bit.

“Yes! I mean, obviously, I am, but he’s just glossing over that to make me feel better.”

“I...” Mirabel squinted her eyes, humming in confusion.

“Do you think he’s doing this to win favor with me? Because if he is,” Cyra let out a small chuckle. “Then he’s definitely not going to get my hand in marriage.” Mirabel tightened her lips, tapping the pads of her fingers on them.

“Did he say only that? Or did he say something else?”

“Oh, some other hogwash like ‘you’re perfectly whole.’ Who does he think he is, some Cassanova? How manipulative can he be?” Mirabel puckered her lips, yet she said not a word. “I’m not easily fooled, that’s all I have to say.”

“Did you ever open up that last jeweled thing?” The cylinder. It sat on her nightstand still, unopened. Cyra glanced at it before shrugging.

“I don’t think I’ll be opening that anytime soon.”

During dinner, Cyra took her place next to her mother and across from Halewijn, who sat next to her father. The cooks from the kitchen swept in with plates of food, freshly cooked, and ready for consumption. Cyra found her hand hovering over a bowl of glazed carrots when Halewijn began to speak.

“Your Majesties, the restoration of the books in the library has been completed.”

Bilka ahhh’d at this news, bringing her hands together in mock prayer. “Oh, how blessed we are to have you here with us, Halewijn. No one here knows how to restore old novels.”

“I’m sure he could teach one of the chamber men so that he won’t have to extend himself by doing us such favors,” Cyra spoke, spooning out a pile of carrots.

“I take pleasure in doing these things, Your Highness. It’s my honor to repair the prized possessions of your people.” Cyra looked up again, meeting his equally stony gaze.

“How long will you be staying with us?” Her father interrupted the unspoken quarrel, his dark brown eyes shifting over to the rolls on the table. Halewijn reached for the glazed carrots, looking to her father.

“For the next three months. I will depart after Yul.”

“What?” Bilka eyed the man carefully, not believing her ears. She was full of joy, Cyra knew.

“I will be here until the solstice is over. King Omar will be presiding over Ostara this year, according to our priestess, so I will be returning to help with the festival.” Cyra’s stomach dropped. As if the next year could not get any worse...

“Omar will be hosting Ostara?” Her father sat still, confused. He pressed a hand to his beard, rubbing the other over his bald head.

“It’s the South’s turn. Every four years, the festival hands change.” Halewijn reminded them, and Bilka shook her head.

“I hope they know what they’re doing...” She mumbled before stabbing a piece of zucchini on her plate. Cyra noted the grim tone in her mother’s voice. She enjoyed being the head of festivities and letting anyone else run them drove her insane. Bilka was known far and wide for throwing lavish parties and festivals that drew the neighboring kingdoms’ envy. Every queen wanted to be Bilka. Every king wished to have her. It just so happened that she landed in the lap of the king of the East decades ago. She had not made him a mockery of the courts by any means, despite being of lower and less prestigious birth.

“I’m sure you’ll send the Princess with plenty of suggestions,” Halewijn added, smiling brightly at the Queen. Surprised, Cyra choked on her turkey.

“I’m sorry?” She coughed, covering her mouth.

“Oh, your mother hasn’t told you?” Her father put down his fork, looking at Cyra with a particularly unyielding expression. “You’ll be traveling with the High Prince to his court after Yul.” The iron blanket of despair finally fell upon Cyra’s head. She would be traveling with Halewijn to visit the very kingdom she swore to never step foot in again. With this, Cyra stood suddenly, her utensils falling to the floor in a heap.

“Then I suppose I will take my leave since all of these decisions are made without my input whatsoever.” She snatched her napkin off of her lap and threw it on her food, storming out into the main hallway before tossing over her shoulder, “Good night!”

When she reached her room, she slammed the door shut, feeling every bit of anger in her bones. The door swung open a few minutes later as she was undoing her hair and taking off her circlet. She tossed the circlet onto her dresser just as Halewijn walked in, his eyes searching the room.

“You have no business being here.” Cyra reminded him, but he did not remove himself from her doorway.

“You have this nasty habit of storming off whenever you don’t get to do things your way.” He tossed back at her.

“Can’t I have a say in how my life is conducted? It seems that for the past month, you have come in and disrupted my entire existence. Shouldn’t I feel something for the loss of independence?” She turned to him, holding her index finger out accusingly. “Before you came and proposed, I had this entire palace to myself. Now it seems I cannot turn a corner without you or the ‘engagement’ hanging like a guillotine over my head!” Halewijn stood stock-still, allowing her to go on without defending himself, his arms crossed neatly over his chest as he leaned on the doorframe. “But I have to agree to this engagement simply because when I become Queen of the East, I will need more resources than I have already at my disposal. My mother says we have been weakened considerably, and she would never lie to me about such a thing. She knows the court means too much to me.” Cyra’s bottom lip began to quiver, the emotions of the situation at hand finally crashing down on her. She tried to breathe in, tried to exhale past the bubble in her throat, but all that came out was a shaky sob.

Without her permission, tears began rolling down her face. Halewijn’s gaze softened considerably, and he advanced toward her, holding out a handkerchief. She pressed the blurry black shape to her eyes, hoping the tears would stop, but they did not. And when they didn’t, Halewijn led her to the high-backed chair in front of the empty fireplace. He sat her down, then loaded the fireplace with logs before striking at a match sitting on the mantel. The fire started slowly, but they weren’t desperate for warmth, and to add to her ease, he placed a large fur blanket from her bed on her shoulders before wrapping it around her small frame.

“There.” He whispered as she continued to cry in the handkerchief. He squatted before her, rubbing her shoulders like her father would do when she injured herself. “You’re safe here.” Cyra blew her nose, relaxing into the comfort of the room and Halewijn’s gentle caresses. It was then that she realized her anger was misplaced. The upheaval of her life had not truly bothered her. No, it was the possibility that she would not be alone forever that startled her into pushing back. Ever since her failed engagement --

Halewijn interrupted her thoughts when he stood, letting go of her shoulders. “I should go,” he began, striding toward the door quickly. Cyra wanted to tell him to wait, but her mouth wouldn’t move. Almost immediately, he turned around, walked back to her sitting space, and leaned down to brush his lips across her cheek, his left hand cupping her right cheek. “I won’t be far if you would like to talk.” He murmured in her ear before pulling away again and leaving her alone for the second time.

Except for this time... Cyra wasn’t so sure she wanted to be alone.

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