Gifts & Weddings
The group met at the stables the next morning, Cyra dressed in her hand-me-down gown, and Halewijn head-to-toe in a black riding ensemble. His horse was white with golden hair and barely moved as they waited for everyone to arrive. He sat upon his horse - already mounted - looking down at Cyra from his sitting position with a smile.
“Green is one of your many flattering colors, Princess,” Hal called out to her, allowing everyone else to hear him. Cyra blushed and tucked her crop under her armpit, smiling her thanks at the prince.
“Black isn’t one of your favorites, I imagine. I’ve never seen you wear it.” The golden sun brooch on his shoulder glinted in the sunlight as he made his way to her, his horse moving slowly, systemically.
“No. I prefer brighter colors. But since we are going for an extended ride today, I would assume black would be more fitting than bright orange attire.” Wyndemere appeared to help her onto the brown mare, holding onto her waist as she hoisted herself up onto the saddle. When she was settled, she looked over to Halewijn, who guided his horse alongside hers. It took the white-haired twins mere moments to climb upon their black horses, their swift movements practiced and methodical.
“Are you ready?” Alorha called over his shoulder.
“Ready,” Halewijn replied, and they took off in the direction of the palace gates. The first leg of the trip was silent as they passed the inner gates into the outer courtyard. When they reached the entrance to the city, Wyndemere and Alorha adjusted their weapons - small but deadly daggers - so that they were visible in the sunlight. Cyra hated the display of potential for violence, but it was necessary for those who would seek to take advantage of two royals on an excursion.
Halewijn turned to her as soon as they crossed into the city, passing by the city dwellers’ homes. “I hope you don’t mind... I brought some things for the children in the square.” She then noticed a small coin purse tucked halfway into his pocket: that, and a bag attached to his mare.
“I don’t mind at all. I’m sure your generosity will go far.” The thought of Halewijn being generous with those who were not yet his subjects made her feel some warmth towards him. Her days had been filled with little discoveries about Halewijn, but now... now she anticipated seeing him as a High Prince, and not just a suitor.
The road to the square, paved with cobblestones, was littered with common folk doing their daily work. None of this surprised the royals, and neither did their presence surprise the commoners. A few children did point and marvel at the beautifully dressed man and woman on their high beasts, though. Cyra smiled at whoever she could, hoping someone might smile back. A few did, but most bowed or curtsied as they passed, avoiding eye contact.
The square wasn’t far from the gates. When they arrived, they dismounted, and the royal guard took their horses to find water. Cyra turned to look at Halewijn, who shouldered the bag from his horse’s back. He began to walk toward the fountain and, along the way, gathered a following of young children. Some played about Cyra’s skirts as they walked, not speaking to her, but all clamored to shout welcomes to the High Prince. Hal laughed and replied to everyone, sitting on the fountain’s broad edge before removing his bag.
“I had requests from many of you last time, so let’s see what I brought...” The children crowded around him, each eager to see if their request had been answered. Halewijn rustled around in his bag dramatically before bringing out a small doll, the kind of toy a young girl would ask for. He whispered in the doll’s nonexistent ear before putting it up to his ear as if it could talk.
“This doll says it belongs to Ulana... Ulana, is that true?” A girl with two blonde braids in her hair bounced forward, eagerly taking the doll from him before whispering her thanks and skipping off. And so for the majority of the time spent there, Hal gave away presents to the gathered children, from little trinkets to a new coat for the coming winter. When the bag was empty, only a young boy was left, his face expressionless. He approached Halewijn silently and sat next to him, his fingers dirty and shoes worn thin.
“Maynard,” Halewijn pulled the small coin purse from his pocket and placed it in his hands. “This should be enough to repay the debt and provide for a year’s worth of food.” Maynard did not speak his thanks but hugged Halewijn tightly. Cyra stood aside, watching the encounter with fullness in her heart. When he was done, Halewijn dusted the seat of his pants and rejoined her, placing a hand on her elbow.
“There is something I want you to see.”
The thing he wanted her to see was the local church. The small but beautifully built place of worship was filled to the brim with people waiting in the pews. He urged her inside, and she followed him into the back of the church, waiting patiently. The church’s stained glass windows depicted many stories of the gods: their fights with Fenrir, the rebirth of the murdered god, the crucifixion of the son of the King of the Gods... It was all there to be viewed in peace.
“What’s happening here?” She whispered to Halewijn, who pointed to the front of the church. Two men stood there, one dressed in the East’s colors - blue and gold- and the other dressed in all white. The priest and the groom. The realization they had joined a wedding didn’t fully dawn on her until the bride strode through the doors, her white and harvest yellow dress brushing the ground.
The dress was not lavish but beautiful enough to be worn only for special occasions, unlike what Cyra knew her gown would look like. The bride beamed at the crowd, her eyes glazing over the royals unknowingly. She joined the groom at the altar, and they began their vows, which were specially crafted for the ceremony. Cyra watched the two be joined by a red sash at the wrists, and then drink the ambrosia of the gods before a kiss sealed their marriage. Hal and Cyra joined the crowd in cheering as the bride and groom left the church, still joined with the sash. The wedding guests all filed out slowly, making their way to the Grand Garden, where the reception would be hosted. No one noticed the two of them, and Cyra was grateful for it.
“Now they will celebrate with a feast and dancing,” Halewijn explained, though she already knew that. Cyra and Halewijn opted to watch the festivities from the back tables again, each enjoying the lack of attention.
“This is how normal people enjoy parties,” Cyra mentioned to Hal, who roared with laughter. Vibrant music from the players began again, and Halewijn stood quickly, holding his hand out to her.
“Dance with me.” Cyra hesitated.
“I don’t want to steal the attention away from the couple.”
“We won’t,” Halewijn reassured her, so she took his hand as he led her to where the other couples were. “Just hold my hand here,” he placed her hand in his. “...and my arm here.” He put his other hand on her waist after placing hers on his forearm. Electricity shot through her nerves at the contact as he gently pulled her into a swaying motion before beginning to dance. They made circles around the open floor, Halewijn holding her close. Cyra lost herself in the twists and turns and remembered that these same steps had been second nature for her at one point. Halewijn noticed it and made a point to spin her before murmuring,
“For someone who does not like parties or dancing, you are a very skilled dancer.” Cyra bit her cheek as he dipped her low, looking into her eyes. “May I inquire as to why you stopped?” When he righted her, she took the opportunity to face away from him. He wouldn’t get the answer from her that easily. He dropped the question, choosing to remain silent for a few more spins.
“I should ask you the same thing,” Cyra replied finally, and a mischievous look returned to Halewijn’s golden gaze.
“Why, indeed?” His lips brushed her ear, sending shivers down her spine. “I only stopped because I could never find a partner who was skilled enough.”
“And now?” Halewijn stopped dancing, eyeing her carefully.
“And now... I think I’ve found my match.” Their lips were not far apart now, almost touching. “In more ways than one.” His lips touched hers gently, asking permission more than actually kissing. But something in Cyra broke, and she kissed him, their lips pressing, seeking, almost finding. But a sharp stabbing feeling shocked Cyra back into reality, making her gasp against Hal’s mouth.
“What’s wrong?” Halewijn wondered, looking down with concern.
“I... I can’t.” She pulled away, making her way back to the square. Halewijn followed behind her, perhaps more confused than dejected. Alorha and Wyndemere appeared, holding the horse’s reins, and Cyra mounted her horse unassisted. “We’re going home.” She took off at full gallop, and Alorha followed her on his own horse. Wyndemere looked back at Halewijn, squinting.
“Nothing.” He replied, mounting his horse and heading back to the palace.