During the Midnight Hour Part 35

The doors were opened for them as Vitalis pushed her chair forward. Cyra wrapped her fingers around the arms of her chair and took a deep breath.

The shah sat on his throne, looking almost as though nothing had happened at all. His wife sat beside him, carrying an air of grief around her. Her children weren’t with her. Cyra had heard her children were underneath a very strict watch of the guard every second of the day.

Several of the shah’s advisors and court were in the room, but it was the group in the middle, standing there before the shah that shocked Vitalis and Cyra.

“Helmuth?” Vitalis asked as the whole room turned their eyes on him as he walked in. He stepped around Cyra’s chair, moving towards the group standing in the center.

Cyra carefully rolled her chair back. She was grateful Vitalis had their attention so no one noticed her and her hideous chair.

The leader of the group, an older Vialyan man, smiled at Vitalis. He hurried to meet the prince, pulling him into a quick hug.

Cyra vaguely remembered him. He had been Prince Vitalis’ bodyguard back in Vialya. The whole group seemed to be guards from Vialya.

The shah was smiling slightly. This group must have been sent to be Vitalis’ escort. Vitalis couldn’t stay in Sardes any longer.

“Prince Vitalis, it’s been a long time,” Helmuth said in Vialyan. Vitalis pulled out of the hug, gaping at his old bodyguard.

“Helmuth, I didn’t realize you would get here so soon,” Vitalis said, switching to his native tongue as well. He glanced over Helmuth’s shoulder and narrowed his eyes at the shah.

“We left as soon as we got word. Your mother is anxious to have you back.” Helmuth smiled.

“I’m sure.” Vitalis turned to the shah and immediately switched back to speaking Sardesi. “I assume this is why you requested my presence.”

“Yes, I thought you would want to update your plans for departure now that your escort has arrive early.” The shah gestured towards Helmuth. He asked the guard in Vialyan, “Didn’t you also say the Iron Queen had sent a message?”

Helmuth nodded. “Queen Regan has a message for the shah and his court as well as for her son. She says she expects her son back before Vialya’s first snowfall, and she will honor the agreements Prince Vitalis has signed, but if the shah ever wants to go behind her back, withhold information about potential threats to her kingdom, demons included, or violate any part of the treaty signed, Queen Regan will not hesitate to bring retribution to Sardes in whatever manner she sees fit. Is that clear?”

The silence in the throne room was deafening.

Queen Regan of Vialya wasn’t called the Iron Queen for nothing.

Vitalis held his breath.

Cyra stared at the shah as his face pinched together.

“It is not wise of her to initiate hostile relations with Sardes. She would be better served having us as a strong ally.” The shah rose from his seat. “Inform her I do not take kindly to threats, which is how all of this started.”

Helmuth squared his shoulders and moved in front of Vitalis protectively. “Then you shouldn’t have involved her only son and heir.”

“At least her son is alive!” The shah burst out. Pain marred his face. His eyes flickered to Cyra. His anger and resentment burned into her skin. “Her son and heir is alive and returning home to her. Not everyone is so fortunate.”

Cyra bowed her head and her hands brushed against the wheels of her chair. She may have forgiven herself and relieved herself of her own guilt involving Soray’s death, but the shah certainly hadn’t.

The shah pointedly flicked his gaze from Vitalis to Cyra and spoke in Sardesi. “Prince Vitalis, I trust that you will explain the delicate situation we were in to the Iron Queen. It is not in your interests to make me your enemy.”

For someone who didn’t take kindly to threats, he certainly didn’t have a problem making them.

Well, Cyra certainly didn’t approve of them either, and she was done being a pawn.

She grit her teeth and rolled her chair forward. She ignored the whispers of the court. The wooden wheels bit into her hands as she rolled past Vitalis. He started to reach out, catching her chair and forcing her to stop.

Helmuth looked back at her, furrowing his brow. He shifted slightly, giving her room to pass him.

“Vitalis, let me go.” Cyra kept trying to move forward.

With a sigh, Vitalis let go, saying, “Be careful, zvezda moya.”

Cyra rolled up before the shah’s throne, bowed her head, and said, “I humbly request an audience with the shah.”

“Why are you interrupting?” The shah crossed his arms.

“Because this cannot be put off any longer. I have mostly recovered, but cannot return to my position in your guard. I ask to be released from your service.” Cyra folded her hands in her lap.

The shah blinked down at her. “Why would you ask such a thing? All you have ever wanted was to serve in my guard.”

Cyra scoffed bitterly. She gestured to her chair. “I think it’s fairly obvious that even if I wanted to, I can no longer serve in your guard.”

“Use of your legs or not, you still have your uses to me.” The shah towered above her.

Her magic.

“I don’t actually. I can’t spy for you anymore. I lost that part of my magic. In order to kill the demon, I had to make a sacrifice, and that’s part of what I lost.” Cyra lifted her chin, refusing to be cowed down by him.

“Your brother wouldn’t want you to abandon the only family you have left,” the shah said coldly.

Cyra slammed her fists into the arms of the chair desperately aching to rise to her feet and shout in his face. She settled for just shouting, “Don’t you dare talk about him! You don’t get to act like you cared about him when you refused him a funeral! You don’t get to act like you care about me when you hate me! When you look at me and all you feel is resentment, that I should have died and Soray should have lived. You can’t use Mihrab to manipulate me into being leverage against Vitalis! Mihrab wasn’t your family; he was mine. Soray was my family. I’m asking again, please release me from your service.”

The shah glanced at her chair. “You are family. Because I am your uncle and Soray was fond of you, I will give you a chance to retract your statement. You have lost your brother and your mobility in a short amount of time, and your grief is affecting you. You have nowhere else to go or any way to take care of yourself anymore. If you apologize, you may stay in the palace, under my protection, and I will find a use for you.”

“We’re not family. We never were.” Cyra started to roll her chair back slightly. “My father, my mother, my sister, my cousin, and my brother are all dead. All of my family is dead. You, you are a monarch. I have done my duty to you. I have violated minds for you. I killed for you. I threw my life on the line for your daughter countless times, and, I only ever left her side to help a foreign prince eliminate a threat within our borders for you. In my service to you, I have lost everything, what was left of my family, my legs, and my magic. Haven’t I give up enough? I have done my duty to you as the shah, and all I ask is to be done. Release me from your service, and let me figure out where I go from there.”

The shah spat on her and waved his hand. “Get her out of my sight! Arrest her for treason against the shah by betraying his trust in that she was complicit in Shahdokht Soray’s murder, prioritizing a foreign prince’s safety over the safety of the shahdokht.”

The members of the guard shifted and murmured to each other. The court whispered, not bothering to hide their shock. The guards walked slowly, clearly uncomfortable with arresting a woman they considered one of their own, especially now that she was essentially defenseless.

“You’re not serious!” Vitalis rushed in front of Cyra, grabbing her chair and keeping her close. Helmuth was at his side, but looked confused and concerned. Cyra assumed he had no idea what exactly had just transpired since he only spoke Vialyan. Helmuth had his hand on his sword, ready to defend his prince. Vitalis gestured to the court and shouted, “You can’t possibly condone this! Arresting Cyra? This woman is the only reason any of us stand here today! Have you forgotten already? When the demon and his cult took over the palace, who was the one who stopped him? Cyra, the only woman in recorded history to have been able to throw off possession and live to kill the demon. Maybe none of you saw it, but I did. That demon mutilated her legs so horrifically that she is unable to walk again, and you want to know what she did? As she lay on this floor?”

Vitalis pointed to the exact spot Cyra had been that night. The blood had stained the stone despite the shah’s attempt to erase what had happened. His voice rose as passion and anger poured out of him. He said, “She took Keturah’s dagger as she was dying and threw it clear across the room, right into the demon, saving my life and everyone in this room! In this palace! And this is how you treat her? You spit on your savior and hero?”

“I am their ruler. Treason is treason regardless of any other actions. Cyra watched the shahdokht as she was dying and chose to save your life instead of hers. She is as guilty and responsible for my daughter’s murder as the demon who killed her. My orders still stand.” The shah glared at his guards and gestured for them to move forward.

Vitalis continued to shield Cyra. “Touch her and you go to war with Vialya!”

“Everyone out!” the shah barked. “Prince Vitalis and I have to revise our treaty.”

Vitalis nodded before turning to Cyra. He brushed her hair out of her face. “I’m going to protect you, like you’ve protected me. Whatever happens next, your choice is still yours, but I won’t leave you with the shah. You’re not safe here. You deserve better than this.”

“Better being you?” Cyra asked with a soft smile. Her heart thundered in her chest. She had never expected the shah to hold that much fury and bitterness towards her over Soray’s death, but she trusted Vitalis.

“I hope you think so,” Vitalis sighed, “I didn’t want to rush you to a decision, but I think it’s out of my hands.”

“Whatever you need to say or do, I trust you. Whatever happens next, I love you,” Cyra whispered. Vitalis slowly pulled his hand away from her face.

He swallowed thickly and rose to his feet. He switched to Vialyan and said to Helmuth, “Get her out of here, keep her safe.”

“Yes, sire.” Helmuth took hold of Cyra’s chair and started wheeling her to the doors.

Cyra leaned back in her chair, dazed. That wasn’t how she expected her confrontation with the shah to go. She hadn’t realized she could be used as a pawn against Vitalis.

The doors to the throne room were shut behind her as Helmuth kept rolling her away and down a side hallway. He asked her, “Are you alright?”

“I—I’m fine,” Cyra stuttered in Vialyan, trying to recall the language. “I did not, uh, expect him… the shah… I did not mean to, uh, in—involve Vitalis.”

“You didn’t do anything wrong. Prince Vitalis would not have defended you otherwise,” Helmuth said gruffly. “I admit I am not sure what happened, but I trust his judgement and therefore trust you.”

“I asked the shah to be… released from his guard,” Cyra said still fumbling through the language. “He refused. He knew how Vitalis felt and knew I could be used against him. When I would not… go along he wanted me, uh, arrested, treason.”

“He should not have denied your request.” Helmuth shook his head. “A good ruler proves himself worth of duty, respect, and loyalty. A poor ruler proves himself unworthy by trying to demand it without earning it.”

“That’s very wise… but, uh, the shah blames me for, uh, failing, that’s the word, right? I failed to save his daughter. That is why the shah wanted to arrest me.” Cyra admitted softly.

“We heard about the shahdokht’s death, but what did you have to do with it?” Helmuth asked.

“I was there,” Cyra said. She bowed her head. “Prince Vitalis was there to. We, uh, were there trying to stop— prevent? Um… prevent the demon…but we were too late, out of time. She was… dead, almost dead, or… I don’t know. I just knew she was gone, and Vitalis was alive, and he would only stay that way if I got him out, so I did.”

“If she was gone, she was gone, that was not your fault.” Helmuth assured her.

“I know. I don’t blame myself anymore, don’t resent myself anymore, not like I used to. Whatever happened, I forgave myself for it. Vitalis made it out of there safely, anything else didn’t matter.” Cyra rubbed her fingers over the arms of her chair.

“I don’t mean to pry, but was that when…?”

“No, uh, it was close, and, I fell into a, uh, coma for a few weeks afterwards because of my injuries and magic, but no my legs are another story.” Cyra glanced at her legs. She swore she felt small pricks traveling up her calves, but her mind knew she was imagining it. Every time she touched her legs, there was no feeling. They never moved.

“Prince Vitalis loves you. It was clear just from the way he looked at you.” Helmuth eyed her. “You are not as easy to read. Do you return his feelings?”

“If you had asked me that a few weeks ago before the demon was defeated, I probably would have said no, that I didn’t love him like he loved me.” Cyra picked at the rough fabric of her pants. She looked up. “But since you asked me now, I know the answer is yes, I do. All I want is what’s best for him, but I think that is where he and I differ.”

“He asked you to come back to Vialya with us.” Helmuth guessed.

“He asked me to marry him,” Cyra’s voice shook.

“And?” Helmuth prompted.

“And, he shouldn’t have. He’s your crown prince, and I’m just…” Cyra paused, glancing at her legs. “I’m not really sure… I’m just Cyra.”

“You think that because of your legs, your position, you have to refuse Vitalis even though you love him?” Helmuth leaned on the wall, facing her.

Cyra nodded. “I wasn’t born to rule. I’d just be a burden, and because I love Vitallis, I have to admit that I’m not what’s best for him. Marrying him means becoming a princess, a future queen, I can’t do that.”

“You’re afraid.”

“Of course, I am!” Cyra’s head shot up.

“Did Vitalis ever tell you about Vialya’s last queen, Queen Mari?” Helmuth asked.

Cyra nodded.

“You remind me a lot of her and King Dainan.” Helmuth studied her.

The part about Mari didn’t surprise her. Vitalis had alluded to it at times, when he tried to assure her she was no more unsuited to be queen than Mari, which honestly did little to reassure her. Dainan, however, Vitalis hadn’t described as much. Cyra supposed it was because she knew him only as the man who killed her father. Even then, that knowledge felt so far away. When she’d learned it, a fury had eaten at her bones. She’d felt such rage towards the nephew of her father’s murderer, but now, it was a distant fact. She’d loved too much, lost too much for such an old, buried event involving strangers to eat at her anymore. She’d let it go, had forgiven the Vialyan royal family the second she began trusting Vitalis.

“You are in a similar situation Mari was, an outsider, manipulated by demons, but your personality isn’t really like hers. Mari, for all her strength and resolve, was not a warrior at heart. I have helped raise Vitalis as best I could, and I trained him to defend himself as well I could, but he isn’t a warrior. I’m sure you’ve noticed, he’s a scholar, he’s a protector, defender, yes, but not a warrior, not like King Dainan was.”

Cyra stayed silent. Helmuth’s face shone with a fond sadness. “Vitalis told me your father was the Sardesi man who came to kill the demons.”

“He was. I have no memory of him, though, I was too young. He believed that hosts were as guilty as demons and had to die in order to fully kill demons. I might have believed that once, but I know now, Mari, she was not evil, not like my father would have thought. Being possessed unwillingly… it does happen, and if I hadn’t been… Demons are liars, manipulators, but I understand that my father would have stopped at nothing to kill Mari. It does not bother me anymore to speak of him.”

“I remember that day very clearly. I was with Dainan when we heard the sound of fighting, Mari screaming somewhere in the castle. Dainan, through sheer force of will, broke the chains in his cell and ran to Mari’s side, and when your father refused to let Mari live…”

“Dainan killed him.”

“I killed him, actually.”

Cyra’s eyes widened. “What?”

“Dainan was using his chains to restrain your father, to keep him away from Mari, but it was my sword, my hand behind the fatal wound. I’m deeply sorry for the anguish his death must have caused your family, but Dainan would have strangled him to death regardless.” Helmuth said.

Huh. Hearing that… looking at the man who had cast the final blow… she just felt cold. She thought she should feel something. It was her father they were talking about, but all she really felt was an ache in her heart for her brother. She shivered and wrapped her arms around her. Her father was a stranger she never met, and while that used to fill her with anger and resentment, it was nothing compared to the pain she felt remembering her brother’s last words to her. Her father was a distant stranger she should have known; her brother had been part of her life, been by her side every day. He’d lowered her fevers when she’d been sick; he’d bought her first set of daggers. He’d taught her how to fight, had helped make her warrior. What was the point in being upset over a father she’d never known when the brother who’d raised her was gone?

“You were a guard, and you protected your royalty. If there is anything I understand, it’s that. I understand what you mean. If it had been the other way around, if it had been Vitalis in danger… I would have sooner strangled them myself than let them even breathe in his direction.” Cyra’s fingers dug into the wood. “The problem is I’m not a warrior anymore. I can’t protect Vitalis like that anymore.”

“But you’re alive, not everyone is so lucky. Mari and Dainan certainly weren’t. You survived being possessed by a demon, and yes, I suppose it came with a price, but you are the only person in history who has done so. You are alive, and Vitalis is alive, and he’s in that room going to ensure that you get to live your life. Don’t throw that away. You’ve got a warrior’s heart, Cyra. I think it would a be a real tragedy if you gave up your chance to be with the man you love because you’re afraid.”

“Who said I was afraid?” Cyra used all the strength she had in her arms to push herself up out of her chair so she stared directly into Helmuth’s eyes.

“You stayed at the back of the room until the shah threatened you to get to Vitalis. You were afraid, I assume, because it was your first appearance before the shah and court since the demon. But, when it came to Vitalis, for a moment, your love for Vitalis was stronger than your fear.”

“I see where Vitalis gets his annoyingly perceptive abilities from.” Cyra sunk back into her chair.

Helmuth smiled. “I’ve lived a long life standing behind others. It’s useful to be able to read people. Vitalis picked up the skill from me.”

“You may have done a good job teaching him that, but you did a terrible job teaching him how to fight. I was better than him when I was thirteen.” Cyra grumbled, remembering all the times she rushed to his side, knowing he was losing in a fight.

Helmuth laughed, “Like I said, he didn’t have the heart for it. When he was young he always preferred stories about lovers over fighters.”

“He’s a good man, the best I’ve ever met,” Cyra said softly.

Helmuth launched into a story about Vitalis when he was young. Cyra listened to him tell story after story, but her mind was elsewhere.

Cyra had to make a choice.

Things weren’t as simple as loving Vitalis and being with him.

Being with Vitalis meant being a queen of a nation she had once turned up her nose at. It meant becoming someone Cyra had no idea how to be.

Cyra had spent so long protecting and defending. Her life’s purpose was to lay it down. She was always meant to die. Cyra had known for so long that she would die so Vitalis would live.

It had never occurred to her he would ask her to live. Could Cyra learn how to live for him?

Cyra had an answer.

* * *

Hours later, Cyra was wheeled back in front of the court. Her hands shook even though she had tucked them against the sides of her legs. Vitalis had been pacing the room until Helmuth stopped her chair in his path. He paused, and his worried face softened for a second.

The court whispered uneasily, and the guards stuck to the farthest corners of the room.

The shah glared at Cyra and Vitalis, but Cyra didn’t care. She gently took Vitalis’ hand in hers.

“Prince Vitalis and I have come to an agreement after much deliberation. Our treaty will stand as distant allies.” The shah spoke over the court. “And, because of her sacrifice in her service to me and Sardes, Cyra is released of her obligations to the guard.”

Vitalis’ face pinched.

Cyra stared at the shah. His face twisted into a smile. “Because you were so vocal earlier about how you have no family left, and nothing left to give in service to me, I expect you to never return to Shiraz on pain of death.”

“You’re banishing me?” Cyra whispered.

“Unless, you’ve changed your mind? Do you still consider Shiraz your home?”

Cyra glared at him. “Shiraz was never my home. My family was my home. There is nothing left for me here.”

“Cyra?” Vitalis asked softly. Hope, so fragile, rose in his eyes.

Cyra didn’t know how to be a queen. She didn’t know how to live a life that wasn’t eternally on the sacrificial altar.

But when she thought of Vitalis, of all the lengths he’d gone to for her, the lengths she’d gone to for him… Cyra knew she could learn.

“Then the guards will help escort you out. I assume that if you’re well enough to come before court, you’re well enough to travel.” The shah settled back into his seat.

“I do not need them.” Cyra rolled her chair forward slightly. “I leave with the Vialyan escort.”

Vitalis let out a sigh and could barely hide a smile.

The court launched into whispers. Cyra knew none of it was flattering. The shah narrowed his eyes. “I see the rumors were true. It does surprise me, but I suppose Prince Vitalis had an odd taste to begin with, choosing you. Maybe you’ll be happier there, as the Vialyan’s whore.”

The court was hissing and whispering. The demon had been the only one to say it to her face until then.

“The word is wife, actually. I’m sure I will be much happier there as Prince Vitalis’ wife.”

Vitalis moved to her side. “See? I told you, you were great at handling court.”

Cyra chuckled as he started wheeling her out of the room. Helmuth fell into step beside Vitalis. Helmuth said, “Queen Regan will be pleased.”

“Really?” Cyra snorted. “When we get to Vialya, you get to do the explaining Vitalis.”

“Happily,” Vitalis said as he rolled her down the hall.

Helmuth said his goodbyes as he went to finish any last minute arrangements for their departure.

Once Vitalis and Cyra made it to her room, they stopped. For a moment, they just stared at each other.

It was almost an eternity until Cyra burst out in hysterical laughter and disbelief. “Did I actually just tell off the shah and then the whole by saying I’m your fiancée?”

“It was one of the most impressive things I’ve seen, and I watched kill a demon.” Vitalis chuckled as well.

“Killing the demon was almost easier than that. Now that I think about it, it actually doesn’t surprise me the shah tried to do that.” Cyra leaned back in her seat.

“He really doesn’t like me. He’d take any chance her can get to have a hold over me.” Vitalis agreed.

“He lost his favorite daughter. We constantly ran headfirst into danger where if you had been hurt, it would have been a political catastrophe. I can see why he would take it out on us.” Cyra ran her fingers across the arms of the chair. “But he was relying too much on the idea that I was the same woman who left Shiraz for Vialya as Vitalis’ bodyguard.”

“And tomorrow you leave Shiraz for Vialya permanently.” Vitalis’ voice trailed off, softening.

Cyra caught his arm. “I made the right choice.”

“Was there even a choice? By banishing you from Shiraz, what other option was there? Where could you have gone that wasn’t with me?” Vitalis sat on the edge of her bed.

“Isn’t the fact I’m agreeing to marry you enough?” Cyra rolled forward. “I love you, how much do you want to hear me say it?”

“Do you? Is that truly why you agreed to marry me? Or are you saying that to protect me? Would your answer have been the same if the shah hadn’t interfered, hadn’t tried to force you to leave?” Vitalis buried his head in his hands.

“What do you want me to say?” Cyra reached for him, forcing his head up. “Do you want to hear that it wasn’t a choice? Fine, Vitalis, it wasn’t a choice. If it’s between marrying you and never seeing you again, being stuck in Sardes with ghosts of my family, stuck with this incessant, damning knowledge that I had let you go, then it’s not a choice at all. If it’s you against anything else the world could give me, it’s not choice, because it’s you. It’s you, Vitalis. And even if it was a choice? If I could, for even a second, consider a path that doesn’t have you in it, I am immediately overwhelmed, and I would still choose you.”

“What changed? When did you fall in love with me, and why couldn’t I see it?” Vitalis stared into her eyes hungrily, taking in all the love that finally shone in them.

“I don’t know when. I just know that when I woke up that night in the desert, and I heard your heartbeat… I saw your face in the dying light of the fire, and I’d never seen anything more beautiful. I realized it then, but I’d been falling in love with you for so long. Ever since I met you, I’ve been going down this road, and I never would have ended up anywhere but here. You looked past Soray and saw me. You were a mystery and then a hero. You, again and again, showed me how good you are. But more than that, you were kind, you cared. I’m in love with you, and I’ll spend the rest of my life making sure you know it, making up for all the pain I caused on my way to this point.”

Vitalis took her face in his hands. Cyra leaned forward, wrapping her hands around his shoulders. He whispered, “Will you marry me?”

“Yes,” Cyra nodded into his palms, smiling.

Vitalis leaned in and kissed her. Cyra pulled him closer, wrapping her fingers in his hair. She sighed into him, and his arms slid around her, lifting her out of the chair. Cyra laughed before pressing a kiss to his jaw.

Vitalis leaned his forward to hers. “I love you.”

“I love you too.”

Vitalis sat down on the bed, helping her sit and move her legs to a comfortable position. Cyra let him fuss over her, tucking the sheet around her legs. Cyra said, “I have one request about our wedding, the rest I couldn’t care less about.”

“What’s that?” Vitalis smiled as he moved her chair out of the way.

“The shah is not invited.”

“Good,” Vitalis laughed. “We’re on the same page then.”

Cyra settled back into her bed. Vitalis moved back to her side. He brushed his fingers over her cheek. Cyra leaned into him, murmuring, “You know we’ll have to figure out how to transport a woman who can’t walk across both Sardes and Vialya? And figure out how I’ll get around your castle?”

“We’ll handle it as it comes,” Vitalis said, pressing a quick kiss to her lips.

“You’ll also have to help me learn Vialyan.” Cyra raised an eyebrow, remembering how she struggled talking to Helmuth earlier.

“A problem for tomorrow.” He started twirling her hair around his fingers.

“Not to mention all the lessons I’ll need about how to be Vialyan royalty, your history, your customs…” Cyra started listing it off on her fingers.

Vitalis groaned, “Can’t you just let me, let us, enjoy this for a moment, zvezda moya?”

“Alright, whatever problems we have left to face can wait until tomorrow, lyubov moya.”

“I love the way you sound saying that.”

Cyra smiled as his eyes fluttered.

They talked. Vitalis told stories about his childhood, his mother. Cyra told him stories about her own childhood, about Soray and Mihrab even though her heart still ached from them.

They spoke until their voices faded and Vitalis’ head fell to Cyra’s stomach. He slept with the most serene face she’d ever seen him wear.

Cyra slowly ran her fingers through his hair, watching the air go in and out of his lungs, a constant rhythm and beat that reassured Cyra he was alive and well.

She would be leaving for Vialya… the thought was finally sinking in. Her desert homeland would be far behind her. Vialya was a world of forests and mountains. It was dark stone and bright snow. Sardesi she would always be by birth, but Vialyan she would be by marriage.

She was going to get married. That alone sent her reeling.

Cyra had never thought of herself as getting married. It wouldn’t happen, so she never gave it any thought, until the demon got inside of her head. However, when Cyra thought about marrying Vitalis, it was easy to picture. She could see herself waking up beside him, spending every day with him, she already did.

Vitalis was the easy part.

Living in Vialya… it was an odd thought. One that hadn’t been fully realized. She had no reality to ground it in. Vitalis had been a constant in her life for so long. Day in and say out she’d been by his side. Vitalis was reality.

Vialya was a distant memory of a cold country she had hated when she had been so different, so closed off. Vialya had been an almost unbearable, but temporary visit.

In a few weeks, it would be home.

Cyra had a hard time seeing the dark, cold country as home, but then she remembered what she had seen in Vitalis’ head, how at peace he had been there. She remember what she had heard in his voice when he told stories of his home, his family.

Cyra thought she could just maybe see Vialya as home, but really as long as Vitalis was there, she could bear anything.

She was still afraid. She was afraid of becoming royalty, of having to learn how to rule, of adapting to a new country and culture.

His mother… Cyra was certain his family would disapprove. His mother surely wouldn’t approve of her son marrying her, a crippled woman with nothing to give to Vialya other than her love for their prince She was terrified.

But with Vitalis breathing deeply and looking so at peace by her side, she was a little less afraid. Her love for Vitalis was stronger than her fear.

She remembered her words to herself in her dreamscape. All those deaths, her family… It wasn’t her fault. She forgave herself. All that was keeping her in Sardes was gone. Everything she could find would be in Vialya.

During the midnight hour. Cyra knew beyond any shadow of a doubt her future was with Vitalis.

Cyra fell asleep, promising to herself that every day forward, she’d prove Vitalis right about her. She wanted to be worthy of the title. She desperately wanted to be worthy enough to be Vialya’s future queen.


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