Aught else had been arranged by the next day. Théa and I donned white tunics. It was too hot for any attire more formal. I was Théa Chosen Sword. It was only fitting I see her marriage off.
She stood atop a makeshift platform with a raised altar behind it, which her husband approached.
Queen Maev and her warriors flanked the platform on all sides. We stood between her men and the approaching groom. He looked strong—chiseled, for lack of a better description. Men and women came out of their tents to watch his procession. He drove his own chariot toward us and it rattled to a squeaking halt in front of us.
He approached Théa, smiling like a crescent moon. “I’ve heard much about you, princess,” he said, kissing her hand. “My Mother has arranged quite a match for me.
My heart was beating like ravens’ wings. I fought down the pang of jealousy, and the hurt sunk into my stomach. “Let us waste no time—”
“Indeed.” It was one of the Queen Maev’s shieldmaidens who spoke. But I didn’t comprehend this until I saw that her son was falling.
No—not falling. Someone had seized him! Chaos erupted.
I turned to Théa, who scanned the frenzy for his bride to be. She too had disappeared. I heard the hiss of leather scraping steel, heard Théa shout, “No!”
By the time I the confusion had died down, I saw the Queen Maev and her men, daggers in hand, standing over the prince, collapsed and bleeding onto the altar behind us. Blood was weeping from his throat as the life convulsed out of him in shorter and shorter spasms.
The High Queen wiped her bloody dagger on her tunic.
Blood-slicked Maev pushed past us, leaving a red hand smeared on each of our tunics. She spoke into the silent crowd. “The Lord of Wind has been appeased.”
I was horrified and angry, but I paled against the sight of Théa, who started for the sword at her hip. But before he could lay a hand on her weapon, she felt something. And I felt it, too. Something cold brushing our cheeks.
The crowd whispered amongst themselves. Fists and jaws unclenched and muscles loosened. The crowd relaxed.
But Théa did not. She had not moved. Her anger had passed, giving way to frozen shock. Her gaze was fixed on the corpse discarded over the altar.
And in the confusion I took her by the wrist and dragged her away to a silent spot by the beach.
Her eyes would not stop moving—she could not stay focused on any one thing. A spray of blood had caught her cheek.
I tore off a piece of my tunic and watered it in these fresh waves. I turned to put it to her cheek, but she caught my wrist with such force that I could not suppress a wince. “I could have stopped it. I could have saved them.”
“There was nothing—”
“What use am I if I cannot save one man in my own camp? What use are my gifts if they go to such ruin?” She released me and I stumbled back.
She saw something in my face then, for her anger unwound and her countenance loosened. “I’m sorry,” she breathed. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” She turned away, back to our tent.
I followed him. “Théa!”
She stooped over the side of his bed, unlatched her red-brown trunk.
She opened the chest, swiped the white linen from the lyre.
“There was nothing you could do.”
She did not answer.
“Théa? Did—did you know this would happen?”
She turned her back to me and began to play.
“Did you know this would happen?”
It was the most beautiful song I’d ever heard.