Chapter II: Six Weeks Before, Continued

Lorian had dreamed about escaping her bedroom through the window. She never thought it would be her last-ditch effort to save her life.

She wasn’t in life-threatening danger. She wasn’t going to die if she stayed the night. Acted proper. Went back downstairs and apologized to her wedding guests, and let Prince Zaahir take her hand like she’d been proclaimed to do since she was six.

That wouldn’t kill her per se, but if it came to that, she’d kill herself. No remorse, no second thoughts. She’d warned her parents that if they followed through with the marriage, it would’ve been the final straw out of the many that they’d already broken for her.

Well, her father had. Everyone knew that despite being the reigning queen, it was Lorian’s father who controlled the country.

That night, after tearing up the wedding dress and ruining every last piece of notable art she had left in her bedroom, Lorian had collapsed into her bed and sobbed so hard, she’d thrown up. Out of everything her parents forced her through, this marriage was the one constant. Let her ruin her dresses, let her throw her infamous temper tantrums hidden from the country. But this marriage, just like her sister’s, would happen. Alliances needed to be formed between the three major countries of the world to keep war at bay, and it’d happen whether she liked it or not. Country before individual. Alliances before children.

The only way out was death.

She’d contemplated it, then kicked herself and fought for another way out. She couldn’t end it here. She had to show her parents that she did have aspirations, just ones outside of royal duties.

The giant clock just outside of Lorian’s room chimed for eleven. Per Roman customs, the wedding kiss would occur at the stroke of midnight, and so far, Lorian hadn’t let any of her maids or officers near her. Not even her own family had come into her room, though they’d tried.

First, her mother, whose frail knocks almost made her heart break. Then her twin sister, Beatrice, born only twelve minutes earlier and thus married off first to a man older than their father. Her methodical, emotionless explanation as to why this needed to marry Zaahir made Lorian break a vase to get her to stop talking.

Carmine was the last person to come. He was the queen’s right-hand man—a Constable, the highest rank given to officers—and childhood friend of the queen. He was the most sympathetic about Lorian’s plight, she’d give him that, but he, like the rest of them, told her to come downstairs and finish what was destined for her. He used to be better, back when he was more a family friend who wasn’t weighed down my medals of honor, but those days were gone, as was Carmine’s carefree nature. It’d been replaced with duties that outweighed Lorian’s happiness.

Her father didn’t come up to check on her.

But she didn’t need any more of his anger tonight. Nobody could talk her into this. She had her mind set, and it was anywhere else but this godforsaken palace.

The only one she’d let come near was Missus Sharma. She’d been Lorian’s and Beatrice’s nursemaid since they were in the womb. She’d taught Lorian mathematics, both the piano and violin, and had guided Lorian through speech therapy to get rid of her lisp yet failed. She also knew almost all of Lorian’s secrets, all of her hidden passions without the threads of marriage and princesshood dragging her down.

Lorian had told her, last year, that she didn’t want to be a princess any longer.

“I know your frustrations, Your Highness,” she’d said, this sixty-year-old maid who deserved so much more than what Lorian gave her.

She didn’t know, however, so when Lorian explained more, that she didn’t want to be a princess, or Lucia, or only a woman but something more, something different, that’d puzzled her. Her generation still lived in the mindset that’d fizzled out during this ruling—people could be who they wanted to be, whether they were a boy, girl, neither, or something in-between.

Those rights weren’t given to royal heirs, especially when it involved the procreation of royal children.

Lorian held her stomach as she thought of a way out of this. Even though she was still figuring out her identity, she was sure as fuck not marrying Zaahir for the sole purpose of bearing children. That thought was so far out of her comfort zone, it was off her radar.

Frustrated by her dwindling time limit, Lorian groaned, took the last of her pillows she hadn’t torn, and threw it against her writing desk. It scattered the letters she’d tried to write to her parents only for her to rip them up because, while his mother might hear her out, her father wouldn’t listen. He never did.

A letter fell to her ornate rug. It was hidden behind one of her jewelry boxes and slipped out when the box fell. It didn’t have a name on it, but it’d been stamped with her family’s seal.

Curious, Lorian picked it up.

 


Out the window & down to the forest.

Good luck.

 

She flipped over the note to read the rest, but that was it. It wasn’t even signed, meaning the person didn’t want to be traced back. She examined the handwriting, but that didn’t click either. It looked like the person, whoever had written it, had concealed their own personhood to make the letter untraceable.

She looked back at her door. It was locked, as well as barricaded with her wardrobe. Nobody was coming in any time soon.

She crept towards the window that faced the outer walls. In the past, they were meant to keep enemies out, like the fallen city-state of Siina. It’d once been a wealthy state where most of the Visatorre population lived some 1,200 years back. Tensions back then had been high, she was taught. Visatorre were seen as part-God, part-monster, these people who could travel, or “jump,” back in time for hours to witness a single moment in history. Stories had been created around them, painting them as the voyeuristic, nosy ghosts that deserved all the pain their jumps caused them.

Her father despised time travellers for their unpredictable powers, but he never brought it up to the public. They were a reminder of a bloody history most Romans wanted to forget, but Lorian hadn’t forgotten. She knew that the queen of Siina had murdered the Roman king due to some type of disagreement, and as punishment, she, her lineage, and all 100,000 Siinans had been brutally slaughtered in an unfair and unjust bloodbath.

Lorian grit her teeth. She hated it. She’d hated it ever since it was taught to her by her scholars and meant to sound like a victory. It wasn’t. It was the royal family’s insatiable bloodlust, and it was all the more reason why she wanted nothing more to do with the crown trying to be placed over her head.

The orchestra music from her own wedding ceremony echoed from outside. Six hundred people had been invited and were likely all dining and eating and placing bets as to whether or not Lorian would come down by midnight.

So it was odd that out of all of these guests and bustling maids and officers in the palace tonight, nobody saw Lorian’s horse, Ether, nibbling on the flowers next to the palace walls. She was bridled and had on her saddle, but it wasn’t the official, royally-sanctioned one with all the gold and rubies stitched into it, it was Lorian’s personal riding one that was worn and made of coarse leather.

And attached to Lorian’s windowsill, weighted down so as not to blow in the summer night air, was a silk bedsheet tied into other bedsheets: a less than perfect escape ladder.

Lorian pressed her lips together. Who’d set this up for her? She’d dreamed of this day for years, and it only became more real that week.

She touched the start of the makeshift ladder. It’d been tied several times behind her window and secured behind the jewelry box. Not even Missus’ Sharma would’ve seen anything awry.

Lorian turned so quickly on her heel, she tripped on the rug given to her by her mother’s mother. She pulled out the drawers of her second wardrobe not currently holding back the only door to the room and packed what she considered to be her real clothes. No dresses, nothing that was too uncomfortable to wear. She did pack her corsets to bind her chest and hide her hips. She didn’t hate her body; her boobs were fun to play with when she was in the bath or getting ready for bed. They just meant too much to her past self, and she didn’t want to remember that.

She would no longer be Lucia Maria Carolus Durante di Romano, future princess to the country of Roma and Aldaí.

She would be Lorian. Lorian…

Something. If she was going to run away, she’d have to change her surname, but she’d only landed on “Lorian” when she was a child, a nonsense name that meshed her name with Carmine’s father’s name. That was back when she respected him.

Despite living here all her life, she had nothing of real importance. Clothing she felt comfortable in, 350 pieces of gold lyria she kept in case she ever decided to really run away, utensils—she ate quite a lot in her room. She grabbed documents with her father’s and Carmine’s signatures in case she needed to forge them for her new life, and she kept her signet ring and skeleton key because she was sentimental like that. She had her dagger because her rapiers would be too long and too distracting on the run. She wouldn’t need a map because she knew the whole layout of the kingdom by heart. As for her underwear…

She looked at the dagger in her hand, then at herself in the mirror. The blond hair she’d tied up in a ponytail to get it out of her face still curled to the middle of her back. She liked her hair; it was a staple for Roman women to keep it long. Her mother’s must’ve been worth something for how beautiful it was, reaching her thighs in elegant waves, and her sister’s must’ve taken hours to prepare every day with all the braids and swoops she kept it in.

Lorian gripped the handle of her blade. She didn’t think it over because she knew she’d regret it. Nobody in the kingdom could know she was Lucia. If she were to live as Lorian, Lucia needed to die.

Her locks fell around her in spirals. Her head instantly felt lighter than it had in years, but she knew it didn’t look right. One part was uneven, the next cut too close to her scalp. She didn’t touch her bangs, as Missus Sharma had just styled them the day before, and when she was done, she didn’t look back in the mirror. She retied it into a small ponytail. Her neck felt cold yet free, another chain broken.

Someone knocked on her door.

She nestled her knife against her thigh.

“Your Highness, are you alright?”

The voice, so sweet and motherly, Lorian knew it better than her own mother’s.

“Yes, Missus Sharma,” she called out, and slowly opened her window all the way. Her curtains fluttered. It kissed her cheeks, her newly uncovered neck.

“I don’t want you to feel alone right now. I know this’s terrifying for you, and unfair. Oh, sweetheart, I know. Can you talk to me? Have you eaten?”

Lorian lifted one leg over the windowsill. She’d once climbed out of this window as a child to the giant clock tower above. When they’d found her, her father had slashed her palms. It seemed so much easier as a thirteen-year-old. “I have, and I’m alright now.” She dared a peek down the four stories and closed her eyes. It wasn’t high up. It wasn’t that high. “I’ll be okay.”

“Do you need anything from me right now?”

She swung the rest of her body out of the window. Vertigo hit her like a crashing wave. She wrapped both arms around the blanket and gave a firm tug. “No. You’ve done enough for me this week, and I do appreciate all that you’ve done.” She put more of her weight on the bedsheet ladder, then more. “G-go tell my mother and father that…I’m contemplating coming down soon.”

“Oh, you are?” Missus Sharma asked. “How wonderful! Let me bring them up.”

“I-I’ll just need a minute,” she called out, hoping her voice wouldn’t travel. “Do give me that, okay, Missus Sharma?”

“Of course, Your Highness. Oh, their Majesties will be so thrilled.”

“I’ll bet,” Lorian muttered under her breath, and looked down. What was four stories, really, other than a two-second drop to your crushing, painful death?

She bit her lower lip, said a prayer to any God that would hear her, and let gravity take her down.

Her boot snagged on a jutting brick  and, while it might’ve been a two-second controlled fall, it felt longer. She anticipated hitting the ground but didn’t expect to feel the dizziness that accompanied her once she hit the earth. Her feet gave out from underneath her and she rolled over like a turtle. Ether looked down at her, chuffing.

Lorian stayed on the ground, fingers curling into the cold grass. She counted the eerie seconds of silence. Someone always noticed when she acted out. She’d be caught, subdued, reformed into what her father wanted.

Nobody came. Missus Sharma didn’t run to her bedroom window and call out for her. No patrolling officer asked what she was doing.

She breathed in a gulp of fresh air, then slowly lifted herself up with her horse. She pulled on her reins and waited. She climbed onto Ether’s back and waited.

Nobody was coming.

Nobody knew she was here.

Lucia had been killed, and Lorian had taken her first step.

She blinked back the tears. She didn’t know what had brought them on. Her cutting her hair, her knowing that this one decision might strip her away from everyone she loved for months, years. If this worked, if she really pulled everything off, she might never see them again. Beatrice, Carmine, her mother, Missus Sharma, the maids and officers who treated her far better than she deserved, her father…

She violently turned her head away and broke Ether into a gallop. She tore through the gardens, through the first gate. A lone officer on duty hadn’t been expecting anyone to pass through here and certainly wasn’t prepared to stop a galloping mare running past him. He also probably hadn’t been expecting Lorian to be crying.

She knew she hadn’t. Isn’t this what she’d wanted? To be free from a marriage to a man she’d met three, possibly four times in her life? To be free from her father’s expectations of being a subservient princess and to finally do what she wanted to do?

She ran her horse as fast as she could into the Roman night. Tonight, she was Lorian. And tonight, she was unshackled.

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