A Tale of Crowns and Stars

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The Holmgang

The gates were closing. Cyra took this moment to look around at the crowd, tensing up just a little as she spotted her mother, father, and Mirabel on her left. Eren, Idria, Wyndemere, and Alorha sat to her right, focused on the two figures advancing upon each other in the arena.

At first glance, Cyra couldn’t physically distinguish the two men from each other, save for their hair length. Halewijn, with his brown-red hair cropped short, stood shirtless, armed only with a wooden spear and a shield. Omar, facing away from her, had slung his long hair back in a ponytail. He hefted a long spear in his hands and a shield as well, but his stance looked much deadlier than Hal’s.

Hal’s eyes were first focused on his father, then rose above his head ever so slightly. Pressing her hand to her heart, Cyra gazed down at him with worry and fear. But if Halewijn was afraid, he didn’t show it. He only pressed his hand to his heart, mimicking her. Omar turned to look at Cyra as well, and she saw the corners of his lips twitch up into a half-smile mockingly. Rolling his eyes, Omar turned back to Halewijn, jerking his chin upwards a little. Pelëa appeared moments later, holding a bowl of what appeared to be water. She took slow steps forward, measuring them carefully and listening to the sounds of the crowd around her as her indigo robes drug in the sand.

“Each opponent will wash their hands as a signal that they come to this holmgang with a clean consciousness.” First, Omar dipped his hands in the bowl and cleaned his hands with the water before Halewijn followed suit, shaking the excess water off his hands and walking to the other end of the arena. “This holmgang has been called to order by Halewijn, High Prince of Ostara, for Omar, High King of Ostara, to answer for his crimes. The alleged crimes include two homicides, attempted murder, and conspiracy to defraud a royal of their rightful position. Omar, how do you plead?”

“Not guilty.” The sound of Omar’s stern answer sent a twinge of fear into Cyra’s soul. Anger was powerful, and if it could propel Omar to kill once, he wouldn’t be so hard-pressed to kill again. The lie was enough to confirm in Cyra what she knew along: Omar wanted to come out of this alive and give her a front-row seat to her husband’s slaying. He could have ended the fight then, thereby confessing his role in the crimes and submitting himself to a trial with a judge and jury, which he might escape from without resorting to murder again. But he wouldn’t, even with the threat of death hanging over him.

“Then you will both fight until the death in a holmgang. The gods will choose your fates. At the sound of the bell, your duel will begin.” Pelëa, now assisted by Gwennivarr, turned around and walked out of the arena and into the stands. Cyra leaned forward a little, anticipating the pealing of the bell at any moment. She didn’t realize her hands were bunched into fists, and she was holding her breath until the resounding gong resounded across the arena, and the action below unfolded quickly.

Omar backed away from Halewijn, brandishing his spear and shield protectively, which gave Halewijn a wide berth to charge in with his own weapons. But he didn’t. He just stood on the opposite end of the arena, motionless.

“What are you, a coward?” Omar called out, which earned him a few laughs from the crowd. “You order a holmgang to order, but you won’t fight me! Are you afraid, son?” Halewijn tilted his right ear to the sky, watching as a lone cloud approached the edge of the sun, and Omar followed his gaze, frowning at the blinding sunlight. At that moment, between the bright sunlight streaming into Omar’s eyes and the cloud casting a dark shadow across the amphitheater, Halewijn took a step and threw the spear at his father, the silvertip shining briefly just before the sky darkened.

The spear nicked the skin of Omar’s bicep, but overall, it missed him completely. Omar stepped back in shock, the edge of Hal’s spear clanging against the metallic shield and echoing around the arena.

“Pathetic,” Omar cursed and spit on the ground. “You would think all of that time spent out in the wilderness would’ve taught you some skills.” Discarding his shield, Omar hefted his spear at his side, stalking toward his son.

“Instead, you engaged yourself with some half-breed enchantress, almost drove yourself to the brink of insanity, and embarrassed the family name!” Omar cracked the wooden spear in half with his knee, tossing the blunt end at the crowd, eliciting cries of shock. “And now,” Halewijn held his shield at chest-high as his father closed the space between them. “I’m going to kill you like I should have long ago.”

Cyra felt her blood rushing through her veins at a rapid pace. TheThe shaking sensation she felt in her hands and feet wouldn’t stop, not even after she clothed her hands tightly together. Composure, composure... You can’t let Omar see you shaken.

Halewijn closed his eyes as the spear came down, and without hesitation, he ducked and rolled out of the way. Excitement moved through the crowd at the sight of his deft dodge, and Cyra leaped to her feet, leaning on the stone edge to watch the fight closely.

Outsmarted, Omar composed himself and straightened up, but not as quickly as he should have. The metal shield on Halewijn’s arm provided a purposeful weight as Halewijn shoved his father into the brick wall with enough force to make the man exclaim in pain.

Hal stood there, bracing his feet as he pushed Omar into the wall again with the shield, now leaning on it to crush him. The spear dropped to the ground, which Hal noticed. “I won’t kill you if you yield!” He grunted loudly, but Omar growled in response, a blatant refusal. Cyra’s fingers twitched with anticipation. Halewijn could easily take the spear and kill his father with one blow, so why didn’t he? Halewijn released his father from his position between the metal shield and tossed the spear toward him. “I won’t kill an unarmed man. Get up, and die with dignity.”

Omar collapsed to the ground, spitting blood from his mouth as he attempted to recover. The man pushed himself up on his hands and snatched the spear off of the earth, standing with difficulty.

“You are a coward,” Omar hissed, blood running down his chin. “You should have killed me right then and there.”

“It would have been just like you and my mother, wouldn’t it? Killing an unarmed, defenseless woman who knew the truth about you.” Hal snarled his lip curling up in disgust. “You know I am nothing like you.”

Omar began to chuckle, his shoulders shaking with mirth. “Oh, Halewijn, haven’t I already told you?” Inhaling deeply, Omar pushed loose strands of his hair back. “We are more alike than you realize.” Omar lunged for another attack with a roar, barely missing Halewijn’s midsection and catching his thigh instead, which instantly produced a line of blood.

Cyra cried out in horror, instantly covering her mouth with her hands. Halewijn - caught off guard - looked down to his thigh, but glanced up in time to dodge another blow from Omar. Omar landed in the sand on his shoulder while the High Prince dashed for the abandoned spear on the arena’s opposite side. He grabbed the wooden weapon and turned back to his father, who charged ahead, attempting to catch Halewijn in a vulnerable position.

The sun, now streaming down on the crowd, illuminated Hal’s sweaty back, making the muscles and long scar shine in the light. Cyra inhaled deeply, and time seemed to slow again, creeping to an almost-halt as Halewijn held his spear at an angle, planting his feet firmly in the sand. Omar had only a few seconds to adjust his trajectory, but the blind rage he found himself in obscured his sensibilities as Halewijn ran towards him, sending sand flying as he aimed the spear at Omar’s heart.

The collision sent shockwaves through the crowd, and muffled gasps followed by a nervous silence accompanied the ring’s final sight.

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