Bets & Boxes
The carriage ride to the Temple of Rhadros seemed shorter than the ride she and Halewijn took not too long ago. Perhaps that was a direct result of Cyra’s distracted thoughts, but when the twins dismounted from their horses, a burst of fear exploded in Cyra’s stomach.
This was it.
Before the twins could even reach the door to the carriage, thoughts jostled around her head for space and time, each possibility flashing into her mind’s eye at once. And then, for one long moment, Cyra could only see Gunnar’s corpse, except this time, his eyes were golden, and his skin was tanned much darker—
The sound of her name shook her from her thoughts, and Cyra looked into the black, bottomless pits of Wyndemere’s eyes. He lifted a pale hand up to her and beckoned her to come out with two swift jerks of his middle and forefinger. Hesitation halted her bones, but fear of what might happen without her presence propelled her forward. After taking Wyndemere’s calloused hand, Cyra exited the behemoth without looking back.
Don’t look back.
“Promise me you will follow the plan,” Wyndemere whispered as he escorted her through the arches of the temple courtyard. “Promise me you will follow Halewijn’s plan.” Chaossong shifted against her thigh, reminding her of its purpose. But when Cyra looked at the royal guard, regret and sorrow marred his previously unshakeable features.
“I promise,” She exhaled, and Wyndemere nodded, despite the both of them knowing that it wasn’t a real promise. With a hard swallow, Wyndemere let go of her hand, watching her ascend the stairs into the Temple alone.
A slight chill rippled down Cyra’s back as she walked into the expansive back garden and up to the statue of Rhadros, where she met Gwennivarr. Dismissing her shudder as a product of the cold air and not some awful omen, Cyra curtsied slightly to the woman, only rising when she remembered Gwennivarr could barely see her.
“It’s a pleasure to see you again, High Priestess.”
The woman did not speak as they traversed across grasses and under another archway, then into a tunnel that sloped down. The ground beneath Cyra’s shoes became gravel-like, so she steadied herself on the grey walls on both sides in an attempt to prevent any slipping.
“Your Highness will note that the royal box is only prepped for one person and one guard at the door,” Gwennivarr spoke softly, not looking behind her to address Cyra face to face. “You will also note that this guard is not one of your own.”
“Why is that?” Cyra wondered, pressing her fingertips into the wall as she stepped further down the tunnel.
“To prevent insurrection should the outcome not favor your party.”
“Would he have me killed?” She hissed, and in an instant, Gwennivarr turned around, grabbing Cyra’s wrist in earnest.
“You must not do anything to earn the High King’s ire at this moment, Cyra. Stick to the plan, and we will all be safe.” As soon as Gwennivarr finished, she turned back around as if she had never spoken in such a worried and tense manner. When the tunnel ended, Gwennivarr stopped at the mouth and extended her hand out to a modest, stone amphitheater. A wrought-iron gate was swung wide in preparation for the hundreds of people who would attend the holmgang. “The gate will lead you into the main arena, but you will take the steps on the left to reach the box seats. The rest of your life is ahead of you.” Cyra advanced past the iron gates, not sparing a glance back to see if Gwennivarr had stayed at the mouth of the tunnel or disappeared.
Don’t look back.
Begrudgingly, Cyra dragged her feet across the stone and approached the guard at the bottom of the rising steps. Dressed in the hideous barn red and gold attire, he nodded his tawny, helmeted head at her, his green eyes following her as she took the first few steps up. Only when she was halfway up the stairs did she realize the man was following her closely. Pretending to ignore him was easy; the hard part was making sure her face didn’t betray a single inkling of her plan.
The royal’s box seats looked terribly gaudy for the event - essentially a slaying. There were at least twelve velvet seats placed in three red, neat rows facing the arena below. Cyra walked along the edge of the seats to gauge the drop to the arena’s floor as an escape. Her fingers tightly gripped the stone edge as she measured the fall, which looked to be at least fifty feet. There was a slim chance it would be a survivable drop. But how else could she make an escape?
Looking about the spacious open-air seating, she wondered if maybe there was another door that would lead somewhere, but as Cyra pressed on the stone wall, she found no cracks, no hidden doors, no leeway for anything to be concealed. She had two choices: escape through the door the guard now stood at or drop fifty feet to be injured or worse.
As she pondered her escape route, people slowly began to fill the amphitheater, most sitting in the sunny spaces to the far left and the right of the box. There were only two sections with large pergolas - one to the immediate left and one to the box’s immediate right - which was obviously for the wealthier guests who would attend the holmgang.
Finally, Cyra looked to the center of the amphitheater, where there was only sand. In less than an hour, there would be two men standing there, and one would be doomed to die.
Mirabel followed Queen Bilka and King Ekbert into the amphitheater, fidgeting with her fingers. As the lady-in-waiting to High Princess Cyra, she should be permitted to be with her. But as she looked up at the closed-off box, she could see her mistress blankly staring out into the sandy center. Though Cyra looked composed, Mirabel knew that she was planning her next moves carefully.
For a moment, Mirabel wished she had said some comforting words to her earlier, something that would ease her mind. But everyone knew Omar’s reputation as a ruthless warrior and skill with a sword and shield. Bets were being placed to who would win, with many participants betting Omar would beat Halewijn with minimal effort. No one had seen the High Prince wield anything other than a whip, and that wouldn’t be enough to measure his skill in battle. Even Mirabel had to admit, the High Prince might be sorely outmatched when it came to dueling his own father.
As the sun rose a little higher, Mirabel looked to the gates that were closed with an ungodly squeal. The sound caught Cyra’s attention, too, the lady noticed, and Mirabel swore she saw her mistress stiffen if just a bit.
“Mirabel, come sit with us,” Bilka encouraged, and Mirabel took a seat next to the queen, praying that the holmgang would come to a close quickly and that Halewijn would be the victor.