A Tale of Crowns and Stars

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Embers & Quail

Mirabel found Cyra sitting in the same chair she had resigned herself to the previous night, still covered in the fur blanket. “Your Highness...” She whispered, crouching next to her. “It’s morning. Have you slept any?”

“Only a few hours.” She had watched the fire burn out, crackling into ash and embers all night. When that was over, it had only been a matter of time before her eyes closed, but her sleep remained fitful.

“Perhaps you should stay in here for today and rest. There will be another storm rolling in soon. Shall I bring you something to eat?”

“I’m not hungry.”

“I will run your bath, then.” Mirabel stood and walked into the bathroom, running the hot water in the large tub. Cyra looked down to the dark handkerchief in her hand, noticing the large ‘H’ embroidered in the right corner. She wondered who embroidered such a beautiful teal H and gifted it to him. His mother, perhaps? Or his former lover?

The sound of the water flow slowing drew her away from her thoughts, and she rose, allowing the fur blanket to fall from her shoulders. She quickly undressed, leaving her clothes in a pile behind her, and stepped into the water. The heat instantly soothed her aching muscles, and the scent of eucalyptus wafted up from the steam.

“I will let you relax.” Mirabel left the bathroom, shutting the doors. No doubt, she would take her clothes to the laundry room downstairs, which gave her ten minutes of peace before the lady-in-waiting returned to scrub her clean. Ten minutes of reflection. Ten minutes of sleep...

Ten minutes of sleep felt like seven years of silence. When the doors opened again, Mirabel quickly attended to her before wrapping her up in a comfortable night robe. Cyra climbed into her bed, sliding underneath the covers as she looked at the storm brewing outside, the weather matching her emotions inside. How fitting.

“I just want to make sure she’s okay.”

The words from the hallway drifted into the bed-chamber, and Cyra looked up from a parchment detailing shipment items. The voice belonged to Halewijn and the protesting voice to Mirabel. The argument outside of her doors grew louder until it spilled into her room.

“She’s not feeling well, Your Highness!” An exasperated huff. “Must you push past me like I am common filth? My mistress is not well!” Halewijn appeared first, dressed in a plain, long-sleeved white shirt and trousers, the bishop sleeves rolled up against his dark, muscled forearms.

“I will see for myself.” He said, turning to Cyra in her bed. She let the parchment rest in her lap and pushed aside the inventory book.

“High Prince.” He noticed the bags under her eyes as he drew nearer, concern dotting his face.

“Are you well, Princess?” He breathed, taking in her visage.

“I’ve been better.” She patted the space next to her, allowing him to sit on the bed. “Have you come only to ask me about my condition?”

“I have. I did not see you at breakfast today. I became worried when your lady said you weren’t feeling well.” Mirabel rolled her eyes at his comment, crossing her arms.

“She did not lie. I did not sleep much last night.” Halewijn nodded, standing.

“I will not stand in the way of you resting.” In one move, he gathered the parchment and the inventory book. “And neither will these.”

“Wait!” Halewijn rolled up the parchment against her wishes and stacked it on top of the book in his hands. “Do you... even know how to take inventory?”

“Princess, I have many skills you do not know of.” He answered cryptically, leaning in to place a gentle kiss on her cheek. “Rest. I will be back later to bring you lunch. Mirabel, see to it that she does not lay a finger on any documents or pages. Send them all to my chambers.” With that, he left, leaving Mirabel’s eyes wide and mouth slightly agape.

“Golden-eyed devil.” She whispered, tucking Cyra in. Despite her words, Cyra swore she saw a hint of a smile push against Mirabel’s lips.

As promised, Halewijn walked in with a tray of food around lunchtime.

“I had the cook prepare your favorite meal. Hopefully, it will renew some of your strength.” The warm quail and cooked vegetables enticed Cyra’s stomach to growl loudly, and at this, Halewijn laughed. “Eat until you are full, Princess.” The invitation was taken to heart, and she managed to stuff herself full of quail within twenty minutes. She pushed the remainder on her tray to Halewijn, who obliged and finished the rest.

When they had both had their fill of food, Cyra laid back on her pillows, exhaling deeply. Halewijn stretched across the foot of her bed, hand resting on his stomach. “I have not eaten quail in so long...” He sighed, which was followed by a belch. Cyra giggled at the lack of decorum, tickled pink.

“I would never touch it as a child... but now, I love it.” She added, eyes drifting to the ceiling. They settled into a comfortable silence, both still fuzzy-headed from the food. Suddenly, Halewijn rolled over to face her, hands on her toes.

“I’m not nice to you just so you’ll accept my proposal, you know.” Some part of her did know that, but she didn’t want to believe it quite yet. “I want you to be happy... with me or without me.” She nodded at his statement, smiling back at him.

“Thank you for your kindness. It makes everything a little easier.”

“Hmm...” He hummed, rolling onto his back. He laced his fingers together over his broad chest, looking at the blank ceiling. “You will join me at the Southern Court for Ostara, right?”

“At this point, it is futile to go against my family’s wishes.”

“Then you will accept my proposal?” His eyes flicked to her face, waiting patiently. Cyra hesitated, thinking of the cons. There was only one thing that she would reject him for, but there wasn’t much else. And the thing she would reject him for was something he could not control.

“I will.” Halewijn waited a moment before sitting up, looking her in the eyes.

“I will treat you with the utmost respect, and you will be afforded any and every pleasure you desire. To take the utmost care of you is my pledge, and I will see it through until your death.” Cyra smiled at him, the words sweet to her ears, but bitter to her heart.

“Words are worthless. Actions are everything.” Halewijn nodded and smiled back, something sad lurking behind his golden gaze.

“I will do everything I can to care for you.” He slowly rose from the bed, taking the empty tray with him. Before he left, he placed a kiss on her cheek again, lingering a bit longer this time.

“Will you be back with dinner?” She inquired, and he turned to look at her, surprise in his eyes.

“If that’s your desire, my bride.” He mocked a short bow, then left her alone for the afternoon.

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