by Avery Timmons
The Spring Ball: one of the most highly anticipated events of the season, especially for the Court that hosted it. And not so much for its rival Court — except for one person.
Bylur looked at himself in the mirror as he shrugged on his jacket. Despite the rivalry between his Court and Spring, he and his parents were still expected to attend, and while they were grumbling about the fact for the last week, Bylur had no complaints because a trip to the Spring Court meant a trip to see his beloved, Ixora.
Bylur wasn’t ashamed to admit that Ixora had him wrapped around her finger. She was charming: Spring personified. They met when they were young, though it seemed only yesterday to Bylur. He remembered how he found himself too close to the Spring Court border while meeting his best friend in Autumn Court.
He remembered laying eyes on the girl across the border and feeling his chest constrain in a way he’d never felt before, feeling his breath catch in his throat.
She was beautiful, even then: long, flowing blonde hair that fell to her waist, the locks appearing so soft and silky — practically glowing in the sun — that Bylur’s fingers ached to reach out and run his fingers through them; something he had done many times since then, but it never got old. The wide eyes were the perfect shade of green to match the leaves on the rose bushes she always loved so much, the roses that she tended to herself, despite her parents having more than enough gardeners and servants. But that was something else that Bylur quickly learned to adore about his Ixora; she was jaw-droppingly beautiful and possessed the kindest heart of anyone he had ever met. She loved to help out in the gardens (and there were many in the Spring Court), in the kitchens, anywhere, even though as the princess of the Spring Court, she hadn’t needed to lift a finger. But she did, and she loved it. And she loved Bylur, though most days, he wasn’t sure why.
He was the tall, gangly, silver-haired prince of the Winter Court, as well as the first-born and only son, making him the rightful heir to the throne one day. And that day appeared to be approaching sooner than he would have liked, because over the months, his father had been growing ill. No matter the amount of tonics and magical treatments, he never seemed to be getting better; only worse. And while he was in good enough health to attend the Ball, Bylur knew that both he and his mother suspected that this might be his last.
Bylur shook off the thought as he picked up the small, square box that was sitting upon his dresser. He carefully opened the blue velvet lid and gazed down at the necklace that was inside.
While he’d wanted to buy her a ring — not to propose, at least, not yet — a promise ring, of sorts, he’d opted for the necklace, thinking that it’d be easier to hide from her parents, to tuck under the neckline of a sweater or a dress. Not that he wanted to have to hide their love or any token of it, for that matter, but he would deal with it until he could finally proclaim it to the world. And for now, until he could, he would buy her little trinkets to show his adoration for her.
He had chosen this necklace the moment he laid eyes on it; it had simply screamed Ixora. It was a crystal rose, light pink, just like her favorite color. He had a whole speech planned, one that he’d been going over and over in his head for days, though he knew he was going to mess it up the moment that he was actually in front of her. It wasn’t uncommon for him to forget or stumble over his words when he was with her. She just had that effect on him.
Bylur decided that the best decision would be not to overthink it too much before the moment arose, so he tucked the small box into his pants pocket as he descended the winding stairs of the palace, which would lead him from his bedroom down to the entrance hall. Sure enough, waiting at the bottom by the front door, were his parents.
His mother was dressed in a dark blue, shimmering, floor-length gown, her silver hair curled and cascading down her shoulders, a crystal-coated crown upon her head. His father was dressed in a suit of the same dark blue, though Bylur couldn’t help but notice that it hung more loosely on him than it had the last time he wore it. But Bylur tore his attention away from that, focusing on the bright smile of his mother, which always seemed to warm every room she stepped into. Bylur had always been his mother’s pride and joy, and he strived to make her proud with everything he did, so it killed him to know that his secret romance with the daughter of their rival court would disappoint her.
Though he knew that good could come out of it — he would just have to prove it to her, and to the rest of the world. Bylur would rule the Winter Court sooner than later, and eventually, Ixora would rule the Spring Court. Together, they could finally join forces and demolish the age-old rivalry. One that he wasn’t exactly sure of the reason why it started in the first place, though he suspected — from years upon years of sneaking through the palace and eavesdropping upon important meetings — it was something to do with territory. He knew that at some point, centuries ago, both Winter and Autumn expanded their territories, pushing Spring back. While it had been settled enough to not throw his land into a never-ending war, he suspected that Spring was still not happy about it. But once he was king, Ixora queen, and with Autumn’s neutrality bridging the gap between the two Courts, he had no doubt that the rivalry would be a thing of the past before long. It was thinking of that kind of change that kept him going, kept him from absolutely dreading the day that he would become king.
But until then, he’d have to wait. As well as hide his adoration for the princess of Spring.
The family of three piled into their carriage, which was pulled by two large caribou. The caribou were kept in a stable just on the edge of the family’s grounds, and Bylur enjoyed visiting them every so often, bringing them treats when the servants weren’t looking. Now, they lumbered through the land, pulling the carriage behind them, passing through the rest of Winter, which slowly faded into the beautiful orange, red, and brown shades of the Autumn Court. Bylur watched out the small window of the carriage, hearing the caribou’s hooves crunch on the fallen leaves that were scattered over nearly every inch of the territory — which always made for plenty of leaf piles to jump in when Bylur was a child. He and the youngest son of the king and queen of the Autumn Court, Radley, would make as many piles as they could, jumping from one to the other, until the sun set in the evening, setting a glow of deep orange across the lands. While he loved his own Court dearly, Bylur had always had a soft spot for the beauties of the neighboring Court, as well.
But then, there was Spring.
He hadn’t seen it enough times to not be amazed every time by the lush greenery and flowers of every color that covered the land. It was a different sort of beauty from the glittering snow and ice-covered lands of his own Court, but beautiful nonetheless.
Bylur’s chest began tightening in both excitement and nervousness as he spotted the looming palace in the distance, just as marvelous as the rest of the Court. He slipped his hand into the left pocket of his pants, feeling for the small box inside, his nervousness spiking when he closed his fingers around the object. He desperately hoped that she would like it.
He lifted his gaze towards the palace, hearing his mother and father talking quietly from beside him, but he wasn’t listening. He was too focused on the white stone towers, the curling vines and fully bloomed flowers that curled around every nook and cranny of the glorious palace, yet none of it was overgrown. Everything was clipped and groomed to perfection, and Bylur knew that when he laid eyes on the king and queen, they would match the appearance of their kingdom: not so much as a hair out of place.
And when he finally laid eyes on them, as he and his parents stepped through the threshold of the palace, they did not disappoint. The Queen was dressed in a long, flowing pink gown with a train that extended well down the hall and a neckline that dipped in a low V. Her golden hair was carefully braided in a low knot at the nape of her neck, exposing the glinting, pink stone earrings that hung from her ears. Bylur had no doubt that those earrings probably cost more than some of the servant’s yearly wages.
The King was dressed in a white suit with hints of pink to match his queen’s attire, his blonde hair gelled back, but Bylur’s attention quickly jumped to his side, where his lovely Ixora stood, her hands clasped behind her back.
She looked perfect. Bylur had expected nothing less, but she still took his breath away.
She wore a dress that matched the shade of her mother’s, like unlike the Queen’s, Ixora’s dress fell to her knees. The flowy skirt was carefully laced with patterns of roses, but the top part of the dress was a solid, light pink with a neckline similar to her mother’s, clinging to her chest and the curve of her waist. Her golden hair was curled in soft waves that were pinned back with shimmering pink pins, leaving her beautiful, round face on display.
Bylur practically melted on the spot as her full, pink lips curved up into a shy, barely-there smile as they made eye contact. He knew that they couldn’t make it too obvious, but he offered her a similar smile back. Her wide, green eyes lit up, her cheeks now matching the color of her dress, though she quickly tore her eyes away from his, as to not raise suspicion.
Bylur’s heart clenched. She was so, so lovely; and all his.
Even though he was dying to get her alone, his fingers itching to caress those soft curls, he tore his own gaze away from her face, tilted his chin up to look important (which he could practically feel her laughing at him for), and followed his parents into the already-crowded ballroom.
It was easy to distinguish between the Courts, considering each usually dressed in regards to a specific color scheme. It was even easier to spot Radley, in his deep red suit and unruly chestnut brown curls, clearly flirting with a blonde girl from the Summer Court, clad in a light blue gown. As much as Bylur wanted to go and spend time with his friend, especially because he knew it’d be a while until he was able to sneak off with Ixora, he decided to not interrupt, allowing Radley to have a chance with this girl. So, instead, he scooped up a cup of the sparkling pink punch, found himself a nice-looking empty spot on the wall, and leaned against it.
As he stood, watching Ixora flit from person to person, greeting everyone like the perfect princess that she was, he reached into his pocket once again, wrapping his hand around the box. He ran his fingers over the edges, simply feeling the soft velvet, as if to make sure that it was really still there. He kept his eyes fixed on Ixora, and occasionally, she’d glance over in his direction, and as they’d make eye contact from across the ballroom, she’d smile brightly, displaying a mouthful of perfectly white, straight teeth. And Bylur would smile back, clutching the box even tighter as he’d watch her turn away towards the next person. He grew restless with jealousy as he watched her hug Radley, her arms snaking around his neck, or as she laughed at something a Summer Court Prince said, resting her hand on his arm.
Bylur ached and ached with jealousy, until finally — after what felt like hours later — Ixora looked in his direction once again, only this time, she tilted her head in a barely noticeable gesture towards the back doors, which Bylur knew would lead out to the garden. The main one, that was. The whole Court was filled with gardens, but this one was the pride and joy of the king and queen — and most importantly, the pride and joy of Ixora.
Bylur allowed a few minutes for Ixora to leave first before doing so himself, trying to make his exit appear as casual as possible, setting his empty glass on a server’s tray on the way out. But the moment the heavy doors closed behind him, he picked up his pace, finding himself practically sprinting towards where Ixora stood, gazing affectionately, and perhaps a little absentmindedly, at one of her beautifully-tended rose bushes.
Bylur picked her up once he reached her, wrapping his arms around her waist and spinning her around, holding her close to him, so that he could feel the quick beating of her heart and smell the flowery scent of her perfume. So that he could feel her warmth and softness and everything he’d been not-so-patiently waiting for all evening.
She giggled, which was music to Bylur’s ears. He lowered her back to the ground, and she stepped back from him, smoothing down the front of her dress, her cheeks flushed and a soft smile on her lips.
“Those Summer Court boys are insufferable,” she admitted, “I thought Arun would never stop talking. I didn’t think I was capable of fake laughing for that long, either.”
“Well, you had me convinced.”
Ixora shook her head, looking up at Bylur from under her lashes, a near-devilish grin on her soft, pink lips that had Bylur sweating.
“Perhaps I should pick up acting. I’m rather good at it, apparently.”
Bylur huffed a laugh, reaching out and tucking a stray lock of hair behind Ixora’s ear. She leaned into his touch, and he let himself cup her jaw, running his thumb across the soft skin of her cheek. Her eyes fluttered shut, and Bylur could see himself standing there for the rest of eternity, Ixora happy and content under his fingertips.
One day, he would have exactly that, every day of his life.
“I think the only thing worse to your parents than you picking up a commoner job like acting would be you being in a relationship with the prince of your rival Court. Oh, wait.”
Ixora giggled, opening her eyes and lifting her head, away from Bylur’s touch. He dropped his hand, somewhat disappointedly, but at least she was still smiling at him like that. He was on a roll tonight; he’d have to keep the jokes coming.
Until her smile faltered, a troubled look clouding her eyes, and Bylur instinctively went into protective mode.
“What is it?” he asked.
She shook her head, tearing her gaze away from Bylur’s as she ran a finger along the petals of one of her roses. This one was pure white — a rare beauty in a garden full of flowers of every color. A rare beauty, just like the girl standing in front of him.
“My parents,” she replied, her voice even quieter than it had been before, “They’ve been talking more and more about strategies and…”
Bylur knew that whatever her parents had been talking about, she didn’t think Bylur would like to hear it. He suspected what it was about, but he pushed her to continue anyway. She looked at him again, her wide, green eyes regretful.
“And what’s going to happen to your Court when your father dies.”
Bylur pushed his tongue against the inside of his cheek, tearing his eyes away from hers’. He fixed his gaze on the red rose bush a few feet away. While Ixora had figured out how to breed them and grow all sorts of different colors, the classic red ones had always been his personal favorites. And focusing on the simple beauty of those flowers helped to ease some of the pain that arose whenever he thought of his father’s situation. Because not only would his mother be destroyed by his father’s death, it meant that Bylur would take over the throne. And while he dreamed of change, he was certain he wasn’t ready for the grief that would come with the loss of his father, while being expected to step up into his position — especially not so soon.
“They know I’ll be the one to take over, right?”
Ixora nodded, her lips pursed tightly.
“They think that you’ll be like your father, which they don’t like the idea of. They’re wishing that there was going to be a different king — one easier to manipulate, so that they can finally have their way. You know how they are.”
Bylur nodded, still looking off towards the roses, but Ixora’s hand brushing against his brought him back. He turned to look at her, and she smiled softly, though her eyes were still troubled.
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have brought it up. I didn’t mean to worry you.”
Bylur shook his head, shook himself free of all of his worries and fears regarding the near future, and leaned forward to press a gentle kiss to Ixora’s forehead. He’d worry about all of that later, and enjoy this time with Ixora now. Plus, he still had his gift for her.
“You have no need to apologize. I have something for you,” Bylur said, pulling back, and Ixora watched, starting to smile as he pulled the box out of his pocket. Her green eyes widened as he opened it, revealing the little crystal rose on its delicate golden chain.
“Oh, Bylur,” she breathed, and Bylur’s heart swelled with joy as he watched her pull the necklace out of the box, cupping the chain in one hand as she carefully studied the rose in the other. She smiled up at Bylur, holding it out to him.
“Put it on me?”
Bylur obliged, taking the necklace from Ixora, his fingers brushing hers.
She turned, holding up her golden hair and exposing the soft curve of her neck, allowing Bylur to carefully clasp the necklace. Once he was finished, she turned, letting her hair fall back down over her shoulders as she smiled up at him, toying with the rose between her fingertips.
“It’s beautiful,” she murmured, and Bylur’s smile grew, knowing that his cheeks would ache by the time he went back into the palace, just as they always did when he finished spending time with Ixora.
“I wanted to get you a ring, or something,” he admitted, somewhat shakily, as he shoved his hands into the pockets of his pants, “Like, not like that, not yet, anyway, but like, just to say that I love you, and that I’m excited for what the future holds for us — if you still want me then, anyway, and-”
Ixora saved him from his rambling with a kiss. A light brush of her lips on his, but it still sent his entire body aflame. She dropped down from her tiptoes, smiling up at him, and Bylur almost completely forgot what he had been saying.
“I have something for you, too,” she said, softly, “But you have to close your eyes.”
Bylur smiled, but obliged. He could have sworn he saw that troubled look on Ixora’s face before he closed his eyes, and that there was an odd, twisted expression on her face, but perhaps he was imagining things. She was probably just upset about her parents, or about the fact that she had troubled Bylur by bringing up his father’s state. She’d always been so empathetic, which was another thing he loved about her.
He heard the soft shifting of fabric, and his eyebrows furrowed slightly, tempted to take a peek as he wondered what she was doing. But then he felt the press of her hand on his wrist, her skin soft and warm against his. She slid her hand up his arm, and every hair on his body seemed to rise at the touch.
“I’m sorry about this,” she whispered then, and Bylur’s momentary excitement vanished.
“Sorry?” he asked, his eyes still closed, as he felt a soft breeze drift over him, sending the flowery scent of Ixora’s perfume in his direction. “I already said, Ixie, it’s-”
“It’s for the good of the Court,” she interrupted, “our Courts.”
And Bylur’s blood froze in his veins just seconds before he felt something sharp pierce against his chest, through the fabric of his shirt, breaking the skin under it.
The last thing he heard was her sweet, soft voice, as she released his wrist, as he went limp and seemed to be falling somewhere between consciousness and unconsciousness, as the blood pooled from his chest, as warm as the Spring breeze, as deeply red as his favorite roses:
“Long live the king.”