She breathed in, breathed out. Aida gasped in, weakly breathed out, eyes watering from staying open too long.
Lorian, still unable to properly move, took Aida’s glasses and folded them into her pocket. Then she took Aida’s school uniform and folded that, too. It was the easiest for her to wear. She couldn’t bother with her socks or bloomers. The only thing that mattered was getting her somewhere safe.
The unconscious officer nearest them groaned. Lorian stilled, then began dressing Aida as quickly as possible. She forced the white collar over her head, then her arms.
Aida choked on a guttural groan.
“I’m sorry.” Lorian lifted her upright to get the rest of her dress on. Aida was double her size, she couldn’t lift her without risking dropping her. “Just stay with me, Aida.”
Her head suddenly dropped, sagged, and Lorian’s head fell with it. “Aida?”
The officer stirred again.
“Aida?” she whispered.
“Mm…” The spittle returned and spilled off her lower lip.
Lorian wiped it with the back of her cuff. She wished time would freeze at that exact moment so she could’ve thought things through. She needed a minute, an hour. She needed a clear head and steadier hands.
But she didn’t have any of that. She couldn’t afford space to think with Aida like this. Action needed to be taken, whether she was ready for it or not.
“I’m sorry,” Lorian repeated, unsure if Aida could hear her, “but you need to stand. Can you do that? Stand?”
Her chin stuck out, trying to speak.
Lorian worked with her and got her standing before any of the officers regained consciousness.
“She just travelled a long way. This’ll hurt her for the rest of her life, but do not worry. She’s still the same girl you fell in love with.”
Lorian teared up. Visatorre could travel ten, fifteen years into the past without much damage to their physical and mental states, so what had Future Lorian meant? How much of this Aida had been taken from her?
To check, Lorian lifted Aida’s head.
She, too, was crying. Not in the normal way people did. The tears simply fell like raindrops without much expression, like her mind was fighting with what she needed to express.
Lorian held her cheek and waited for her eyes to meet hers. “You’re going to be okay,” she promised, “but we need to leave now, okay? We’ll leave together. I won’t leave you behind.”
Her mouth parted to speak. Her weak breath hit Lorian’s nose in tiny puffs.
Then she doubled-over and puked. Lorian jumped back, then held back her curly hair so none of it stained. Without her hair in braids, it was wildly curly and unkempt.
“Alright, alright.” Lorian helped her onto her two wobbly feet. “One of the better times to have your cane and, what, you throw it at Carmine?”
Aida huffed on what sounded like a laugh as the two of them exited the room and fled down the stairs. Lorian found the servant stairwell easily—the old architecture reminded her too much of the palace—and helped guide Aida down the cramped stairwell.
It wasn’t possible for a person who looked exactly like Lorian to know her secret. She’d just didn’t want to marry a boy. It didn’t make sense. She didn’t know if she wanted to be a royal child anymore, but ever since she was conscious enough to understand her future, she was adamantly against being married off to a prince. Her and Beatrice—“Bea” when they were young—had been betrothed at six years old. She’d been gifted to King Dmitri from Bělico, a once twenty-five-year-old now forty-six-year-old nasty man who cared for animals better than he did women. Prince Zaahir was only two years older than Lorian, which she had to be grateful for, but she was still never in favor of it. She’d wanted the freedom of choice, of love. All of which, according to her father, women shouldn’t decide for themselves.
She left those thoughts in Aida’s dorm and helped Aida to the ground floor and out the back door.
She turned them from the main path and kept away from the trees in case they stepped on a branch or Aida tripped over a root. She didn’t know the extent of Aida’s injuries, whether it originated in her back or her leg or somewhere deeper, so she went slow for her sake.
It helped that she had no idea where the fuck she was going. She’d fought Carmine, knocked out two officers. Future Aida had taken him somewhere, which Lorian would no doubt be charged for. With admitting that she’d been the one to knock Carmine into the Mafi Harbor that summer—it’d been the talk of the town, she relished in it—she was a dead man. Either her parents would realize her identity and lock her away with Zaahir in Aldaí, or she’d be hanged in public as a disgraced man, or woman. Maybe her father would still see her as a “disrespectful brat,” just like on her wedding day. She’d been slapped in front of everyone for calling him a bastard. She hadn’t meant it, she didn’t think, but it didn’t stop him from outpouring his disgust onto his child.
She trekked towards the forest separating Durante Academy from the first town. It was a ten-minute walk of either farmland or trees. She didn’t know what would be most beneficial for Aida and their safety.
Before disappearing into the night, Lorian leaned Aida on a tree. She’d kept up well, but her knees were now shaking. She hadn’t yet spoken. Lorian didn’t know if she could anymore.
No. Future Aida, aside from a few quirks, looked and acted normal. If they were to be the same person, her Aida would be fine, right?
Lorian gasped and almost unsheathed Carmine’s sword. It was larger than hers and didn’t fit well in her holder, making it harder to take out.
Alessio and Matteo ran up to them. They were still in their uniforms, but their swords were missing and they looked confused and a little taken aback by Lorian’s stance.
“What’re you doing?” Alessio said, then smirked at Aida. “Running off for a quick session in the forest?”
“Not the time,” Lorian said.
By her tone, Matteo’s brows stitched in concern.
Alessio raised a hand to his belt, his smirk remaining. Then he noticed Aida’s heavy breathing and the spit staining her jaw and he slouched his shoulders. “Something happen to her?”
“She jumped. Far. It’s bad. I don’t know what to do.”
Aida coughed, spit and phlegm jumping from her nose. Lorian wiped it on her sleeve. There was blood in it.
“Oh.” Alessio stepped back. “Oh. Fuck, okay.”
“What should we do?” Matteo asked. “Is she well?”
“No,” Lorian said. “She was convulsing and drooling. I don’t know how to help her.”
“Do you know how far back she went?”
“I-I don’t know. Far,” she guessed. “Hundreds of years, I think.”
Alessio’s eyes scanned the ground in front of them, his joking nature drying out as he did the impossible math in his head. “Isn’t that, you know, serious?”
“Should we bring her to the hospital wing?”
“We can’t,” Lorian asked.
“Why not?” Alessio asked.
“Because—” Aida began to fall. Lorian kept her standing. “Because I might’ve attacked Constable Carmine and two of his officers.”
The boys’ eyes went wide in shock. Ever since she was a child, she’d been defiant, abrasive. She was a bastard child through and through, and while Alessio and Matteo might’ve remembered her as a princess that seldom left the castle, they only knew Lorian, a boy who sometimes got too in over himself, who couldn’t act until anxiety tripped him into an unplanned action.
Alessio opened and closed his mouth, then noticed the particular glint of gold in Lorian’s newly acquired rapier.
“Stole this, from him,” she explained, “though, in my defense, he stole mine, so I guess I got the better deal.”
“Are you—Why?” Alessio came up with. “Are you mad?”
“He was going to arrest me. I’m not really an officer. I’m…”
She almost said it, almost. She knew it’d do more harm than good, but she wanted to tell them just so she could stop lying and be truthful for once in her life.
She tucked it away. Another time. “I snuck into the training program. I never enlisted, never trained or went to school for it. Carmine was about to take away Aida’s scholarship, so I went to her room to see what I could do. Then he found me and killed two birds with one stone and tried getting at me, but Aida had jumped and I didn’t want to leave her. So I freaked, panicked. I attacked him, and then she came back, and now I’m here and fucked. Totally, royally, absolutely fucked.”
As she spoke, Alessio’s upper lip curled. When she finished, he said, “So you lied to us? All this time, we thought you—”
“Yes, I did,” she said. “I had to. I had to leave my home, otherwise my whole world was going to collapse on me.” She sighed. “Hate me. Disown me as your friend. I deserve it. Just please, before all that, help me help her. Help Aida.”
Alessio didn’t move or blink. He reconstructed the way he saw Lorian, an aggressive officer as well as a liar on top of all her bad traits. Friends didn’t hide things from each other. Friends were honest.
She wouldn’t know. The only friend she’d ever had was Missus Sharma, and Lorian had abandoned her in the middle of the night to chase a freedom she still hadn’t obtained.
Alessio spat on the ground, then cursed and fixed his belt. “Fuck you. Fuck you and your mother. You’re a piece of shit officer and a ruinous man who I hate that I ever associated with.” He helped take Aida in his arms. “There’s a hidden compartment in that barn next to our dorm. They use it to store extra hay. Hide there. For the night.”
Lorian smiled. “Thank you.”
“Shut up. If an officer comes by looking for either one of you, I’m not lying. Unlike you, I’ve fought hard to get this position.”
“Um, ouch,” Lorian said. “I’ve fought hard, too.”
“Yeah, at lying.”
“Oh, like officers never lie.”
“Um, guys.” Matteo brushed something off of Aida’s lower lip. His finger came back red.
“Crap. Let’s go,” Alessio said, and the three of them helped carry Aida to the barn.
Lorian favored this barnyard above all the ones on campus solely because it held only horses. It was near the polo field and kept a variety of pretty colts and mares, even his own, Ether. To keep her identity a secret, Lorian had cut her mane and tail short. From seeing the other horses play with her, she didn’t think the drastic cut had affected her incredible people skills. Lorian envied her for that.
Alessio lifted the hidden door deep within the stable and beckoned them down. There were two short wooden steps they had to take. Lorian made sure Aida didn’t trip. Her eyes were going in two different directions.
Matteo retrieved three plump blankets and pillows from their room and helped set up their beds for the night. Alessio stayed up above, keeping watch with his arms crossed.
“I hope this’s okay,” Matteo said. “Is she going to be alright like this?”
Aida had gone down the second they pulled out the first blanket. She curled up in a ball as if she was cold but didn’t shiver.
“Don’t get comfy,” Alessio called down to Lorian. “You can’t stay down here forever.”
“Bite me, okay?” she said. “Tough day.”
“Yeah, whatever. Where’re you from, anyway, since everything you’ve told us was a lie?
“Not everything,” she said, which was true. “I’m still from Roma City. My father’s still a piece of shit. I still worked at the palace.”
“Yeah, I don’t believe that last one anymore,” Alessio told her.
“It is a bit hard to believe,” Matteo agreed, “you, working so close to the king.”
“Then don’t believe it. It’s the least impressive thing I’ve done. I was forced into that prison by my parents and I did everything I could to get out.”
Alessio scoffed. “Surprised you left.”
“I’m surprised you got so far,” Matteo said. “I could never.”
“I’m a bit of a bastard when it comes to rule-following.”
“Yeah, no shit. Come on.” Alessio called Matteo back up.
“Hey,” Lorian said. “Thank you, honestly. I’ll be sure to put in a good word with my royal connections to make sure both of you are knighted for your humbling heroism.”
“Screw off,” Alessio said. “You don’t know any of the royals. You’d be lucky if one of the princesses spit in your face and called you trash.”
Feeling like she’d gone too far, Lorian just said, “Yeah, right.”
“Right. Night, asshole.”
“Good night, Aida,” Matteo said, but Aida was already out.
They shut the cellar door and covered it with a bale of hay to make their hiding spot more inconspicuous. The only light Lorian had was a single stream of moonlight that illuminated the scattering flecks of dust.
She stretched out her face and fell backwards into her pile of blankets. The reality of today hit her like a cart of rocks. She’d essentially ruined her life for the second time that year. She wondered if her future self had escaped her trail of bad decisions or if it just got worse with age. By forty, she’d be putting countries at war with a single drunk decree. Her father had done it, why not her?
She turned to Aida. She looked so much different with her hair down like this, glasses off, her face not scowling at Lorian for looking. She looked peaceful, beautiful, in this limited light.
Lorian went to push back her curly bangs, then thought better of it and stayed her hand. What an earful she’d receive about this tomorrow.
She prayed Aida could speak to her by then.