Gardens & Dinners
”Engaged!” Mirabel sang, dancing around the room in her yellow and blue gown, her red hair swinging about wildly. “Cyra, how does it feel to be engaged again?” Cyra shook her head and chuckled, looking through fabric swatches as Mirabel continued her song and dance.
“Engagement isn’t always for love, little one.”
“You loved Gunnar.” Mirabel stated, bent over backward with her arms in an “O” above her head. Cyra didn’t look up from the fabrics, but she did pause.
“I did love him. I loved him very much.”
“When will you tell Halewijn?” The question had gone through her mind many times.
“When I’m ready.” ‘Ready’ was an undetermined amount of time, but no one needed to know specifics. For now, all she had to do was focus on the engagement party occurring in a month. The fabrics in her hand were for her outfit, whereas the rest was to be handled by her mother. When she heard the news of Cyra’s acceptance of Halewijn’s proposal, she ran to her chambers and hugged her tightly, reminding her of the good fortune they had come upon.
“Halewijn will be such a good husband to you. You will not regret this choice.” Cyra hadn’t replied, only smiled and shown her mother out. But now Gunnar’s memory weighed upon her, and the thought of exposing her past seemed more foolish than denying his proposal. She looked to the rose bushes below, the red blooms still full and beautiful in the sunlight. Mirabel looked, too, if only to make sure nothing was happening down below.
“They’re lasting for a long time this year...” Mirabel noted, aware that Yul was only two months hence.
“They are...” Some part of her knew why they continued to bloom despite it being later in the year. The other part of her wondered why they even bloomed at all. Cyra stood, tossing the ring of fabric onto her desk. “I’m going for a stroll.” Mirabel nodded, pulling out a black cloak from Cyra’s closet. She draped it over her shoulders, then dusted it off with her hands. The way the shroud fit snugly over her shin-length blue dress and covered the backs of her boots pleased Cyra, and she strode out of her chambers to venture down the stairs.
When she made it into the garden, the chill of fall settled in comfortably. Crossing over from the eastern wall to the southern border - the one under her bedroom- she stopped in front of the rose bushes, tenderly fingering the petals. In four days, she would remember Gunnar. The day would be sad, filled with regret and guilt, but for today, she would find solace in the vision of the garden. His garden.
“Cyra?” The voice behind her made her cringe. Halewijn peeked out from behind a large hydrangea bush, surprised.
“What are you doing in the garden?”
“Tending to the plants. The hydrangea needed some care. And I tended to the rose bush yesterday.” He eyed her carefully, the edges of his mustache downturned, and his hair disheveled. The buds obscured the rest of him from view, but she was sure he had dressed down.
“The rose bush?” The idea that Halewijn had touched the bush made her uneasy.
“Your roses grow well into the dying months. They show no sign of losing any life.” He noticed, pointing his dirt-caked fingers at the bush beside her. Cyra looked to the bush and cupped the roses, frantically looking for any sign of damage. When there was none, she exhaled deeply, turning back to Halewijn.
“Please be careful with my roses. They are very dear to me.”
“I know.” Halewijn stood, attempting to dust the dirt off the knees of his pants to no avail. “Your mother told me.” Fear shot through her bones as she examined Halewijn’s face. Did he know everything? “I’ll take care of the garden while you work on the engagement party with your mother.”
“Can you convince her to forgo the party?” Cyra joked. They knew there would be no escaping the party anytime soon.
“I wish!” Finally, he strode over to her, grinning. “Perhaps you could think of something less overwhelming for us to host. A lavish dinner, maybe.”
“I don’t know... Eating in front of so many people is just so...”
“...trite.” they finished at the same time. Cyra looked up at him, a smile slowly spreading across her lips. Halewijn stared for a moment, words escaping him as he took in the bright expression on her face. Then he shook his head, clearing his thoughts before turning back to the bush and clenching his jaw, the muscle fluttering above his dark brown beard.
“I should get back to this before the sun goes any lower. Noon never lasts for long.” Cyra watched him leave her alone, his muscles rippling beneath his short-sleeved shirt. His feet were bare, she noticed, much like the night they met in the garden.
Before her thoughts could go any further, she walked away, traveling the length of the wall around the palace before heading inside. Mirabel met her at the stairs, removing her cloak before smoothing down the back of her hair.
“Was the garden in order?”
“It seems our High Prince has taken it upon himself to tend to the blooms.” Mirabel did not respond, only tucking the cloak under her arm. She looked to Cyra for any sign of displeasure, however.
“Does this bother you... that he tends to the same garden Gunnar is buried in?”
Cyra tilted her head to the side, thinking long and hard.
“As long as he doesn’t dig too deep, I’m sure it won’t be a problem.”
Halewijn joined the family at dinner, his hands roughened from the gardening and small cuts lining his forearms. He chose to wear a harvest yellow thawb that dipped slightly below his bronze collarbone, with a white short-sleeved bisht covering it. The laurel crown sat atop his head, unlike that morning when she found him in the garden.
“Where did you learn to garden?” Cyra began the conversation between them, her mother and father opting to discuss politics instead.
“In a small kingdom called Northumbria.”
“I know where that is.” She interjected, and he nodded his understanding.
“I learned from the Duchess of Gruten; she taught me all about plants and the specific seasons each would bloom in. She and her husband were very kind to me in my travels. I stayed with them until she passed on, then packed up and headed off to the South.”
“Where in the South?”
“To the island of Selan. I learned how to sword fight with a Master named Duncan. He is the most unassuming man I have ever known, and he could quarter me into pieces within minutes.”
“Is this how you gained many of the skills you spoke of the other day? By traveling?” She inquired, raising a spoonful of pumpkin soup to her lips.
“One of the ways. Other ways have been trading favors for skills.” He winked at her salaciously, and Cyra almost spit out her soup, appalled.
”Favors, High Prince?” Halewijn began to laugh, the musical echoing gentle to her ears. When he finished, he gave Cyra a wide smile.
“Nothing explicit, Princess. Rest assured, I have not known the joys of prostitution.”
They continued with dinner, Cyra stealing glances at the handsome prince more than once during the conversation. He caught her eye at one point and winked at her mid-conversation, the ghost of a grin capturing his lips. Heat pooled in her cheeks at this gesture of familiarity and flirtation. Once dinner was over, they all left, continuing down the main hallway. Cyra walked with Halewijn as her mother and father departed off to their bed-chamber, both of them quiet.
“How do you feel about going for a ride tomorrow?” Hal whispered, inquisitive.
“Just the two of us?”
“...with Alorha and Wyndemere, of course.” The mention of the two Royal Guards made her nod, simply because they always went with the royals when they stepped foot into the surrounding cities. When they arrived at her door, Cyra turned back to Halewijn, who waited for her to bid him goodnight. When she didn’t - the words escaped her - he chose to do it himself.
“Good night, Princess. I will see you in the morning.” He bowed low, taking her hand in his and pressing a kiss to her knuckles like he had so many times before. Her heart fluttered in her chest, which scared her.
“Good night, High Prince.” The flustered Princess breathed before watching him walk away. Mirabel then opened the door to her chambers, smirking.
“That man kisses you on the hand and sends your heart a-flutter?” She inquired, raising a brow. Cyra swatted at her lady-in-waiting, who deftly dodged it, cackling. “You’re starting to warm up to him, aren’t you?”
“I don’t understand your question, and I won’t respond to it.” Cyra teased, walking into her bedroom and undoing her hair.
“Perhaps on your little ride tomorrow, you should wear the green riding gown your mother handed down to you.” Cyra pulled at the gown from her closet.
“This one?” The gold detailing shimmered on the folds of the gown.
“That one.” Her mother had worn the green gown when she was unmarried and going for a ride into the city closest to the castle, galloping on a steed so fast that it had nearly knocked her father onto his ass that day in the market. In that same gown, she had knocked him off of his feet and head-over-heels in love with her. The plan Cyra wove for the outing was not entirely unmotivated by this fact and the magic of the dress.