Cyra had avoided seeing Halewijn for two days, hiding in her room like a coward. The minute the clock struck 12 o’clock on the third day, she shot up in her bed, in the darkness, sweat running in rivers down her neck.
The day of mourning had come.
For two years, it had been like this... Wake up at midnight. Stay awake until midnight. Sleep the following day away.
Mirabel would not bother her today, nor would any other person who served in the Eastern Palace. Everyone knew what this day represented to her, what Hell she would confine herself to for twenty-four hours. Cyra would replay the day repeatedly in her mind, trying to find any way that she could undo what had been done.
But it always ended the same.
Gunnar would still be lying on the palace steps with a broken neck, broken spine, broken legs... The one who committed the murder would always be alive. Cyra would still mourn her loss.
The flash of Gunnar’s broken body propelled her to the toilet. She barely made it to the rim before bile found its way into the bowl. The yellow liquid churned as she fumbled for the lever, hoping to flush it all down in one go. But no matter how much she flushed, there would still be no erasing the images out of her mind.
Mirabel had been the first to find him, her wild red hair following her as she ran as if it were flames from the gods themselves. Her scream echoed down the hallways as she called for her mistress, tears soaking her tanned cheeks. Cyra had run to the woman, expecting some news of Gunnar’s return for the battle.
The lady-in-waiting’s tears had confirmed what she knew would happen when he had been sent off. However, the words that fell from the babbling lady painted a much different picture than the letter she assumed would be hers to read forever.
Time stretched into days as Cyra took off, almost falling down the stairs to the front doors, her dress such an inhibition at this time. This is why she hated them. Gunnar never made her feel like she had to wear one to be a lady, but since he had left, her mother saw to it that she wore one at least three times a week. She cursed her mother as she found the final step, throwing the doors open in the howling wind.
And there he was.
Her first love. His black hair lay matted against his bleeding skull and lifeless expression. He had been alive when he had been dumped on the steps like a dead animal, but the crack in his head confirmed that someone had thrown him. Or dropped him.
It took Cyra a moment to realize his eyes, always vibrant green, had dulled down to a plain hazel, the life most certainly gone from them. And his legs, they jutted out at weird angles—no doubt from the drop... or something else much worse.
She didn’t realize she had been screaming until she leaned over to vomit against the pale marble of the steps, mixing with the blood from his head. But the screaming wouldn’t stop. The raw scratching her throat produced called to the basest part of her, the part of her that needed Gunnar’s touch one last time.
The rest of the household found her cradling his broken body like a child. Her voice was now a mere whisper against the din of the gathered people. She imagined her voice had gone because Gunnar had been her voice. But she knew... somewhere deep inside, she knew her voice had killed him.
Guilt came to her as they carried the broken Prince from her grasp and into the chapel. Guilt whispered foul things to her as she bent over the black, boiling tar pit of The Mavens, who told her the dark spells to bring him back to life. Guilt shook the last will to live out of her when she found the spells did not work. Guilt still sat with her, smoking a pipe in the library of her mind, sitting in a high-backed chair as it cursed at her cruelly. All she could do was stare at it’s shiny, black-booted feet and mumble, “I’m sorry... I’m sorry... I’m sorry...”
Cyra would spend the day with Guilt, catering to its every need and whim. The same Guilt would then tell her that no one could ever love a Princess who sent her own betrothed to his death. And she would agree.
What else could she do?
The sweet scent of tarragon wafted to her from under the bathroom door. Cyra pushed herself off of the rim of the toilet (she hadn’t thrown up for hours, thank the gods), and found herself staggering to the source of the smell, which seemed to be in her bedroom. The strength that came to her to fling open the bathroom doors was not her own, but she made it out, only to find a man standing at her windows, looking out. The back of his head was unmistakable.
“What are you doing here?” Her voice came out shakier than she had intended, but she steadied herself against the bed to seem more put together than she felt.
“Why are you vomiting in the bathroom?” He asked, not turning away from the open window, hands clasped behind his back. Cyra took in his attire for a moment, realizing she hadn’t seen a single stitch on him that he currently wore. This outfit was something new, something more regal than she assumed he owned. Then she remembered her question.
“You didn’t answer my question.” It took her a moment to realize that he was watching the sunrise from her bedroom, eyeing the colors of the sky with consideration. He still didn’t turn around, but this was neither here nor there. The main problem was that he had come into her room on the exact day she hoped everyone in the house would leave her alone. “Halewijn, I need to be left alon--.”
“Will you explain why you ran off after we kissed?” He interrupted, touching a gold ring he had on his finger. That, too, was new.
“I will leave you alone if you tell me why.”
“I have no strength to verbally joust with you today, Hal.” The sound of his nickname drew his eyes away from the window and to her weakened frame. Cyra sighed and dropped to the bed, feeling the entirety of her virtue leave her body in one exhale. “Ask Mirabel.” She offered, and he shook his head.
“This is not Mirabel’s story to tell.”
“I cannot tell you now. I cannot tell you everything right this moment. Ask Mirabel,” She pushed through gritted teeth. “and please leave me in peace.” Halewijn strode to her chamber door, and Cyra swore she saw tendrils of sunlight follow his every movement. She blamed it on her weak eyes and lightheadedness. “And when she tells you,” Cyra placed a hand on her forehead, hiding her wet face. “don’t come looking for me until the sun rises again.” Halewijn said nothing as he slipped out of the door, no doubt making haste to find the red-headed lady-in-waiting.