Chapter V: One of the Boys

As Lorian walked into an empty classroom and waited for Aida and Mister Omar to leave, she pressed her back into the door and utterly lost it.

She covered her mouth with her gloved hands. She’d done it. She’d finally talked to Aida again. And she hadn’t been so crass as she’d been when they’d first met. The first time had been a complete disaster. With Aida being naked and Lorian open-mouthed staring at her, the curves of her wide hips and ass, her breasts, her face, her eyes. God help her, she’d never seen a woman’s body so openly before. All she’d wanted to do that night was slam her down into bed and do unspeakable things to her, yet what had Aida wanted? To talk about fantasy novels and a queen who’d been dead for 1,200 years. What had Lorian even said that’d led her up to Aida’s bedroom? She’d need to write it down for reference.

Despite being betrothed for more than half of her life, Lorian hadn’t a clue how courting worked. The girls she’d met in the palace were diplomatic and groomed to please her, all peachy smiles and saying whatever they needed to make her happy. She’d tried to court an Aldaían knight a few years back, but she’d only earned her name and her preference of cakes before they’d parted ways.

Aida’s attitude was so defiant, so cheeky and unbecoming that it would’ve sent Lorian’s father into hysterics. She wanted her. She wanted to crack her open and explore her mind and passions and give it back to her a ten-thousand fold.

Lorian dragged her hands down her face. Maybe she’d buy her a history book, really push more into the things she loved, or maybe a ticket to En Tempore Rose. The official one, the one that played in the Colosseum. She’d have to schedule a trip to the city center. She’d wear a cloak.

After she heard Aida run off somewhere, Lorian re-entered the library and backtracked for the books Aida had put away. They were old and leather-bound, with yellow pages that smelled of mothballs: History of Roma: From the Perspective of King Julius II to His People and Hidden Dangers of Visatorre in Roman History.

Lorian put that last one back. Aida was brave to read about history that was so rarely taught in class. Lorian had secretly read about it behind Missus’ Sharma’s back. She’d learned about the lost city-state of Siina and the belligerent queen who killed one of the dead kings, and how they killed and tortured those poor Visatorre people for sport soon afterwards as punishment. Thrown into the Colosseum with a pack of lions without any weapons with which to defend themselves. In this aisle alone, Lorian saw four other books detailing what a plight the Visatorre were to other people not blessed with the ability to travel through time.

She believed. The power to go back in time, acting as a ghost to witness history in the raw way it was intended, only to come back and harbor the pains of going backwards. She’d never understand their full pain, she could only educate herself and hope that that injustice would never happen again in her history.

After skimming through more of Aida’s books and realizing how little of it she retained, Lorian picked up the shortest read and went near the windows for light.

She got to page ten, most of which was a glorified chapter about how great the Roman kings were and are, when she heard someone call her name.

“Lorian, you fuck!”

Between the library and the writing hall was a strip of muddy grass. It was a shortcut between the buildings for her and other officers to travel. Two of them were there, calling for her: Alessio and Matteo, the two assholes she’d befriended that month.

“There he is, little bugger,” Alessio said, catching Lorian’s profile from the window. He climbed onto a rock wall to get closer. “Get out of there and come down. Lunch’s almost over!”

“Alright, alright,” she said, and slotted the book for later.

They were good boys, these two. She liked them enough to hang out with them while not on duty. They didn’t know this, and they never would, but she’d actually known them back at the palace. All officers-in-training had to go through a mandatory training program held by a Constable. Lorian had always favored officers for their rowdiness. She’d watch them work out in secret, sneak peeks at their naked bodies when they’d change. When she’d found that both Alessio and Matteo were working as security details at this academy, her decision had been made. A few faked letters of recommendation and her crafty ability to lie through her teeth and she was enrolled as an officer-in-training in a week.

They’d never known it was her as she paraded around as a young, unfavorable princess with incredibly long hair wearing the dresses she loathed, but she liked to tease them every now again with knowledge she shouldn’t have known.

“Hey, Alessio, have you ever been persuaded to eat worms?”

“Matteo, didn’t you pee yourself after seeing a real lion in captivity?”

“Have you two ever kissed on a dare?”

She’d lied to them, calling herself a good guesser.

She walked out of the library and turned the corner to find her boys, but they weren’t there. The yard was quiet; she heard the teachers writing on the chalkboard from the writing rooms.

She stilled her steps. From her knowledge, she knew nobody could truly vanish from the world for good. Something would always bring you back to where you were meant to be.

A twig snapped behind her, and she was put into a chokehold that stole away her breath. She could’ve gotten out of it easily, but she didn’t want to hurt who, from their laughing, she knew was Alessio. Alessio was a redhead with more power than Lorian believed him to have. Matteo, on the other hand, was softer, with dark, floppy hair and innocent eyes.

Laughing, Lorian took out her rapier and used the butt of the sword to knock the wind out of Alessio.

Alessio gagged and let her go. “Ow! You ass.”

You attacked me.” She lightly kicked him for good measure. “What’re we doing now?”

“Late lunch,” Matteo said, and shared a loaf of bread. They weren’t students, but through their enlistment, they were given a dorm room that she shared with Alessio and Matteo and three simple meals ordained by their royal regimen. Sometimes, if they wooed the right girl or boy, they’d get sweets and even alcohol, something that was forbidden to officers. All three of them had already gotten drunk in that month alone.

They walked to their preferred eating space that the Academy cheekily called “The Defense Wall.” It separated the school from the villainous farmlands of lazy cows and stupid chickens. What used to be a formidable, three-meter tall fortress from a time period Aida probably knew about was now a blockage from the smelly farm animals that provided the school a portion of their eggs, milk, cheese, and occasional meat.

Lorian hopped atop an abandoned wagon of hay to scale the tall wall. Alessio followed her, and they needed to help Matteo make it due to his size. There, they shared their bread and butter and made horrible jokes for hours that, if any other officer heard them say, they would’ve had their hands whipped. Lorian had had her fair share of that back home and was keen not to get struck again for misbehaving.

As Lorian dined, Alessio asked her, “Why do you always spend your time in those libraries? You never read.”

It was true, Lorian wasn’t so much a learned soul as her mother and father pretended she was. She was a physical person who liked getting her hands dirty in order to understand something abstract. This had been her fourth trip to the library that week. The first attempt to find and talk to Aida had failed miserably and she was left hiding behind a bookshelf to spy on her. The other try and Aida hadn’t even been there. The girl kept Lorian on a leash and Lorian had no problem with that. “I do read. I know a great deal of things, much more than you do.”

“Then name two books you’ve loved over the past year. No, five authors, and no poets.”

“You try that. When’s the last time you ever picked up a book?” Lorian reached to pull on Alessio’s hair, but he jerked away and stuffed his mouth with his dry loaf end.

“That Miss spends her time there, doesn’t she?” Matteo asked. “That Aida girl.”

“The traveller?” Alessio asked. “She’s a weird one. I’ve talked with some of the girls in her class, and they say she’s really weird. I heard she’s gonna get the nix, you know?” He made a mark across his neck. “Cut out.”

“What do you mean?” Lorian asked.

“I heard it from my father, and he heard it from Constable Carmine. Word from the Lion is that he’s gonna bar those types of people from secondary education.”

Lorian’s ears heated up. “Carmine said that? And the king agreed to it? When?”

Alessio slowed his chewing at Lorian’s mention of Carmine’s name without his title. She had to stop doing that, being so informal about a man she shouldn’t have known so personally. “That’s just what I heard from my dad, so I think it’s true.”

Lorian rubbed her neck. She knew Carmine well enough to forgo titles when she’d address him in the palace, but after being promoted to Constable, she couldn’t say if this was something he’d enforce under the king’s orders or not. He’d exchange his heart for his duty.

But she wouldn’t have put this horrendous action past her father. He was the most racist, hurtful, selfish person she’d ever known, and she hated herself that parts of his speech and behaviors had sunk into her own bones. It took a great deal of unlearning to undo all of those negative stereotypes, and it took her finally leaving the house and joining the ranks to realize how real Visatorre people lived and how awful the world was to them.

“What’s to happen to her?” Matteo asked when they went silent.

“Dunno,” Alessio said. “Kick her out? There’s only a few of those people here, so it’s not like we’d notice right away.”

“But that’s not fair,” Lorian said. “She hasn’t done anything.”

“That’s not gonna stop them, you know that.”

“Then…I’ll stop them,” she promised, and tried mimicking how confident Aida sounded whenever she opened her mouth. “It’s not right. Do you know Miss Mirko uses a cane because of her illness—” She bit her cheek. “Uh, affliction. Can you imagine walking around with a cane at our age? It’s uncouth to belittle those who were born with advantages we weren’t given.”

Alessio pulled a face. “Don’t act high and mighty to me. This wasn’t my decision, I’m just the fucking messenger. And it’s not like we can change this.”

“Say I become a leading Constable, then,” Lorian argued. “I’d rewrite the rules to make them fair for everyone.”

“You wanna be a Constable?”

“Don’t you? Isn’t that the goal of being an officer, to one day be a Constable?”

“Eh, not really. Not for me, anyway. I just needed to get away from my mother, and this was the best option. To be a Constable means you have to put in ten, sometimes fifteen-hour-days and be on the king’s every beck and call. Thanks, but I’m good just being ordered around for simple things.”

“And I wanted to become stronger like my brothers are, but I don’t think I’m strong enough to do everything a Constable does,” Matteo said, and he looked across the field towards the water well. “Oh.”

Alessio and Lorian followed his intent gaze.

“Speak of the devil,” Alessio said.

Stomping down the fields, dress lifted to keep from stepping in cow droppings, was Aida on a mission. Her hands were bunched up in her dress, her teeth grit, and she was mumbling something to herself as her heels plowed through the dry mud. She’d lost her cane, shortening her steps.

Lorian brushed the crumbs off of her chest and stood up higher to better see her. She always walked with such determination, like she truly did not care how other people saw her. Lorian wanted to walk like that one day.

“Do you need a hand, Miss?” Alessio called out.

“Fuck off!” Aida yelled back.

Alessio tensed up. “What the fuck’s her problem?” he muttered.

“S-she isn’t allowed to talk to us like that,” Matteo said meekly. “What should we do?”

“We need to stop her. Hey—”

Lorian palmed Alessio’s chest, almost knocking him off completely before clutching his jacket and keeping him vertical.

“Ow! Lorian, what’s with you today?”

Lorian stared intently at Aida.

Silent tears were running down Aida’s cheeks as she walked. She wasn’t sobbing or weeping, the tears were simply there, though it was hard to tell why she was crying in the first place. It looked like she was off to kill somebody.

When she was out of sight and then some, Lorian got up, told her friends that she was thirsty, and secretly tailed Aida down her chosen path.

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