Soray had been satisfied with her explanation, and quickly fell asleep. Cyra, however, had tossed and turned unable to find any peace. She glanced out the window to see it was midnight. She always was a bit of a night owl.
Cyra stepped out of the room, locking the door behind her. Soray would be quite safe; she was certain. If Cyra thought any less she wouldn’t leave.
However, a midnight stroll wasn’t going to hurt anyone. It was just to help clear her mind so she could get some sleep.
It didn’t take her long to get completely and utterly lost. She wasn’t surprised or at all alarmed. As often as she wandered, she always found her place again, or Mihrab would drag her back kicking and screaming. Cyra was sure he wouldn’t be after her this time. He would stay asleep and never know she had ever left Soray’s side.
The thought of her cousin made Cyra shake her head with a slight grin. Really, Cyra loved Soray, but the way she had been hanging onto Prince Vitalis’ every word was too much!
It wasn’t strange for Soray to get a little carried away around young men, especially royals, who paid her any bit of attention. Vitalis had certainly been paying attention. Fortunately, her flirtations never lasted, and Cyra hoped it would be the case this time as well. It wouldn’t do for Soray to get attached only to be hurt when they left.
It was Soray’s problem, and Cyra was just her bodyguard. She couldn’t help but worry though; she was family. Cyra was there to ensure that no harm befell her, physical or emotional. It was her duty to protect her not only from assassins or bandits, but princes as well. Soray didn’t always look at the bigger picture, like how pursuing her interest in the prince would affect their nations on the larger political scale.
She fiddled with her necklace as she walked.
It was simple, keep the prince away from the shahdokht for a few more days.
There was also the added benefit of staying away from him for herself. The man was like a walking headache. Every time she saw him she began to get this small, sharp headache exactly like the kind she got when she looked at the sun for a moment too long.
Cyra had been so lost in her thoughts that she hadn’t noticed the torches and the guards until she was right in front of them. Two men, a younger and an older, stood at a door. The elder looked familiar, hadn’t he been stationed at the feasts?
He bowed his head to her.
Cyra cleared her throat, forcing herself to switch to speaking Vialyan. Her brain struggled to remember her vocabulary. She said, “Pardon. But, what is this? Or, no, where?”
The younger man frowned, ducking his gaze as he tried to figure out what she had said. Cyra couldn’t blame him; her accent was really thick. The elder guard gave her a smile. “No apologies necessary. You are a guest and have not overstepped your bounds. You’re more than welcome to go inside, if you’d like.”
Cyra, trying to stay polite, didn’t mention he hadn’t answered her question. She nodded and said, “You have my, uh, thanks, is the word?”
“Think nothing of it.”
Cyra pushed the door open. She paused in the doorway, not expecting a library. She kept walking, not really knowing what she would do in there, or why there would be guards at the door if they were just going to let her in. She had nothing better to do than to take a look.
It was impressive, considering Cyra hadn’t even thought they had a library. Bookshelves filled the room, so numerous she couldn’t quite see how far back they even went. There was even a second floor with more shelves.
Cyra enjoyed the way the candles and torches lit up the delicate carvings in the wood railing of the stairs. Clearly, Vialya’s royalty hadn’t neglected this area of the castle.
The steps of one of the guards hit her ears behind her. She wasn’t surprised. She certainly would want to keep an eye on a foreigner in her library. Cyra had no intention of trying to read Vialyan; she could barely speak it and had no idea where to even begin reading it. However, the guards didn’t know that.
Or, maybe this wasn’t about how much trust they gave foreigners, Cyra realized when she reached the top of the stairs.
She hadn’t been let in to see the library. She’d been let in to see the figure slumped over in sleep at a table piled high with books.
Cyra glanced over her shoulder to see the older man coming up behind her. “You wanted me to see him, uh, why?”
The guard smiled as they walked towards the table. “Don’t think I haven’t been paying attention. You’re Princess Soray’s bodyguard, and I’ve noticed the prince hasn’t exactly been receiving kind glances from you, not rude, but not kind. I’d like to break any apathy you have towards him. Your good opinion could go a long way with the princess.”
“And what about this is supposed to improve my, uh, opinion of him?” Cyra stumbled over the strange word.
“Look at what he’s got on the table.”
Cyra sighed, but stepped towards the prince’s table. She bent over and let her fingers fall on the faded, fragile papers. Familiar characters stared back at her. These books were in Sardesi. Language books, history books, just books upon books about anything, and all in Sardesi.
Her mouth opened, ready to retort when the prince’s eyes fluttered. His head shifted. She wondered what he was dreaming about.
“I really should wake him,” the guard sighed. Cyra straightened up, sending him a confused look. He chuckled, “Prince Vitalis and I are both getting too old for me to carry him to the sofa when he does this.”
“You are close to him, then?” Cyra asked.
“Yes, I might be just a guard, but I’ve always tried to look out for him like he’s family. Goodness knows he needs all the family he can get.”
Cyra didn’t respond. There was a long pause and all she did was watch the air go in and out of Vitalis’ lungs. Was he trying to learn Sardesi? What for? The man was quite a mystery.
“You’re a strong, young woman. Would you do a favor for an old man and help me get him to that sofa so he won’t wake up with an awful pain in his neck?”
Her first thought was to say no. She didn’t want to. Cyra wanted to leave. She told herself she wanted nothing to do with him. Prince Vitalis was trouble; she had no doubt.
“I don’t see how I can say no.”
However, she was just a royal guard, and she couldn’t say no without being rude and disrespectful, and Mihrab would be out for her even more than he was already. At least sometimes she tried to be respectful.
Cyra pulled Vitalis’ chair out, grabbing him by his legs. The guard took him by the shoulders. Vitalis grunted in his sleep, but was otherwise undisturbed when Cyra and the guard set him on the sofa.
“Thank you,” he said, rubbing his shoulder, “I appreciate your help.”
Of course, now his royal highness wakes up. Cyra took a deep breath and shut her eyes for a moment to try and ensure she would be the perfect picture of diplomacy.
The prince blinked, rolling over. “I told you, Helmuth, just wake me up when I do this. Or leave me be, don’t hurt yourself for my sake.”
Cyra hadn’t expected that.
“Your highness, I didn’t. Princess Soray’s guard was kind enough to lend a hand.” Helmuth gestured to her. Cyra frowned; she’d been happier outside of the prince’s notice.
Vitalis sat up slightly, grinning at her. “You are the last person I expected to see here. I might still be dreaming; I can’t tell anymore. But you have my gratitude, Cyra. I know I’m no light weight.”
Cyra sniffed, not liking the soft, playful gleam in his eyes. “I have more than enough strength.”
He laughed, and Cyra wished she had said nothing. “I’m sure you do.”
Then he called her something that she hadn’t heard before. She blinked. “Pardon, what did you say?”
The smile on his face only grew wider. Helmuth covered a laugh with a cough which didn’t escape her notice. Vitalis said, “Nothing important, zvezda moya.”
She understood the syllables, but she had no idea what that meant. Her meagre lessons hadn’t covered that.
“Well whatever joke it is in your language, I hope you’re pleased. Good night, your highness, and good luck with your studies, your Sardesi needs it.” Cyra bit out before hurrying down the stairs.
Mihrab would kill her if he found out, and as she looked back on her own words, she wouldn’t blame him. What possessed her to say that, no matter how much the prince got under her skin?
* * *
Still, why was Vialya’s Crown Prince spending all his time in the library rather than enjoying the festival? Especially spending that time working on his skill in a language he shouldn’t need?
Cyra rubbed her forehead with one hand and played with her necklace with the other. She wanted to see Ano to talk to him about everything. She wanted him to remind her of home and to ease her thoughts away from the prince. Vitalis was trouble, and she needed to protect Soray from him. Cyra didn’t want her to get too attached to him when she wasn’t ever going to see him again.
“Cyra, which do you think I should wear?” Soray’s voice pulled Cyra up from her bed. Cyra looked over the dresses Soray had pulled out.
Each dress was worth more than an entire year of Cyra’s pay. Even as a personal bodyguard, attendant, companion, and cousin to the shahdokht, Cyra had never worn such finery.
“Well, what do you want to communicate?” Cyra asked. The majority were dresses she had brought with her, but one or two had been gifts she received during her time there.
“I want them to know how much I’ve enjoyed my time here, how amazing their festival is, how grateful I am to be here,” Soray said, running her hands over a dress from Queen Regan.
Cyra smirked, saying, “Then I think you know which one you want to wear.”
Soray grinned, lifting the dress up in her arms. It was great big, elegant ball gown neither of them had ever really seen before. “You’re right, but we’ll have to find someone else to help. You don’t know how to get me into this dress, and I don’t either.”
Cyra stood up, brushing off her pants. “I’ll go find one. I’m sure the maid will also be willing to help you with your hair if you want a Vialyan style.”
“You don’t mind?” Soray asked, draping the dress over her arm.
Cyra laughed, “Not at all. I do my best, but my hands weren’t made for pinning hair and dressing royalty. You’ll be better off what a woman who knows what she’s doing.”
“Don’t be so hard on yourself.” Soray set the dress aside, pulling Cyra into a hug. “I wouldn’t trade you for the world.”
Cyra pulled away. “I appreciate it. I’ll have someone sent up to you in just a moment.”
However, that was easier said than done. Cyra found herself rushing across the castle, clumsily asking anyone she saw for help. Her Vialyan was truly awful. Half of those she approached couldn’t understand her because of her strong accent.
Cyra was about to give up, but then she found one of Queen Regan’s maids who eagerly agreed to help the foreign princess. Cyra thanked her lucky stars that she wouldn’t have to fumble through the Vialyan fashions again.
It was right after she had opened the door for the maid when a hand grabbed her shoulder. Cyra jumped, spinning around. She relaxed slightly when she saw it was Mihrab rather than a different unwanted visitor.
“Go ahead, Princess Soray’s waiting,” Cyra said. The maid nodded and went ahead of her.
Cyra shut the door, turning to face her brother, ready to defend herself. Before she could speak, Mihrab pulled her into a hug, saying, “You know you’re my sister, right?”
Cyra’s voice was muffled in his shoulder as she went rigid. She muttered, “Yes?”
“You’re my only sister, now,” he said. Cyra winced as her chest twisted, but it was true. “I only do what I do to try and look out for you. I hate it when we fight.”
Cyra sighed, “Fighting with you is no joy of mine either.”
Mihrab let her back away. “Good, so, you’ll at least be honest with me if you go dreamwalking?”
Cyra rolled her eyes. “If that’s your way of asking if I have, the answer is no. I have not returned to my dreamscape since last we spoke. I do listen to you sometimes, you know.”
“Thank you,” Mihrab said, smiling.
“But, just so you know, I don’t always do it by choice,” Cyra said, shifting her weight and ducking her gaze. “Magic is strange and sometimes my magic will take me there before I realize it.”
Mihrab raised an eyebrow. He clearly didn’t believe her. “Alright, then just try and keep it to a minimum.”
Desperate to get his suspicious gaze off her, she gestured to the sword at his side. “So, you finally have father’s sword.”
Mihrab’s face lit up as he brushed his hand across the hilt. “I never believed it would be mine. When there’s a moment, I’ll let you try it. You should get to use it some too. You’re his child as well.”
Cyra kept her gaze on her feet. The thought of touching the sword her father’s murderer had stolen from him wasn’t as appealing as it had been years ago. “I didn’t know him like you did though. I wouldn’t even recognize him if he showed up on the palace doorstep. I wasn’t even walking when he left, and I still barely remember the day a few years after it was determined he was gone. Besides, I don’t think he ever imagined his daughter would have use of that sword. From the way mother used to speak, you were the one who would follow in his steps. They hadn’t really expected any more after you, certainly not any girls.”
“That doesn’t make you any less his daughter or a warrior. They’re likely cursing me now for all that’s happened on my watch to you, to… I don’t think they knew what to do with daughters, certainly not for you to join me in the royal guard, but seeing as we are who we are, you don’t exactly have as many prospects,” Mihrab sighed. He smiled kindly. “At least I don’t have to worry about any men trying to steal you away from the palace, from me and Soray. I’m not ready to lose you yet either. I’m so proud of you, you know that right?”
Cyra looked up at her brother. He wasn’t one to smile often, but that made it all the better when he did.
“Thank you, but I’m afraid that despite your best efforts, you can’t replace him. I love you, but as my brother not my father.” Cyra rubbed her neck.
“Alright, but if that’s the case, why are you trying to distance yourself now that we finally have a piece of him back? Isn’t that what you’ve wanted for so long?” Mihrab’s fingers drummed against the hilt. “You’ve let this torment you for your whole life, now that you can finally have something of his, you want nothing to do with it?
Cyra backed away, fighting back the water rising in her eyes. Her voice cracked as she said, “I don’t know.”
She turned around, hurrying away. She couldn’t face Soray like this, and Mihrab kept pushing. Alone was what she needed.
But she did know. How could she tell him though? A sword wasn’t enough. It wouldn’t fix this. Having his sword back didn’t bring him back. He was dead and gone before she knew him, but Cyra always liked to tell herself she knew him. Her father was all that was good in the world. Oh, the stories her mother had told her. He was a hero. She was the daughter of the widely known and revered champion and demon slayer of Sardes.
His entire life was dedicated to the eradication of evil monsters that crawled from the depths to destroy their world.
Now, now that she knew the truth, he was… He had failed. He’d been killed by the people he had come to save. Why? Why did they have to take his sword? What exactly happened that day?
No, Cyra couldn’t bear to think about it. She had already made her peace, and it was only to be interrupted for the anniversary of his death where she allowed herself some self-pity before she stowed it away for the next year. Now, though it was following her. Prince Vitalis and Mihrab’s sword were destroying her poorly constructed peace. She didn’t want to think that maybe her father wasn’t the man she thought he was. It was easier to mourn with Mihrab for a short period, then pick up like he had never even existed. He was just a figure in stories like her mother had told her.
Logically, she knew it was far too much heartache to be in over a man she never really met.
Cyra wrapped her arms around herself. If there was to be no justice for her father, if his killer was never to answer for it, if she was never to find out if he was hero, villain, or failure, then she had to forget it completely. It would just hurt her otherwise.
Cyra pushed a door open and stumbled into the middle of the room. As she turned to take it all in, more faces than she could count stared back at her. Who were these people? Cyra’s eyes traced the portraits filling the walls. It wasn’t until Cyra found her way to the last portrait did she find herself staring into the iron cold gaze of Queen Regan that she knew where she was.