Beatrice was staring out of her carriage window, chin propped up on the windowsill, utterly indifferent to the world.
She wasn’t feeling indifferent, just pretending to be. In fact, as their carriage trekked down the familiar path of tulips, she was feeling all sorts of ways. She was back in Roma, back for another meeting issued by her father with her husband and not her. She’d come to Roma once or twice a year for meetings and council discussions. Her husband, as usual, would do all the talking, so Beatrice would just smile and nod and pray that her sister wouldn’t fuck anything up.
But this was the first time she’d be arriving back home without Lucia’s presence, and she didn’t know why that made her relieved yet also want to throw herself out of the carriage and sleep in the tulips for ten years.
She didn’t even know if she should’ve been thinking of “Lucia” as “Lucia” anymore. She hadn’t denounced her name publically, doing the paperwork to change her name and gender to whatever she wanted, but she had told Beatrice weeks leading up to her wedding that she’d wanted something more.
She’d brought Beatrice into one of their spare drawing rooms. They’d been trying on dresses for the wedding and Lorian had viciously cursed out her maids and fled. Beatrice had followed her, of course. It wouldn’t have been good if their father had found her throwing a fit like that.
She’d cried into her hands, not on Beatrice’s shoulder. Not that she’d expected that—they hadn’t been as close as normal twins should’ve been—but she’d wanted to help her, or at least make her stop crying, so she’d listened to her.
“I wish to not be a Romano any longer,” Lucia had said. “I don’t want to be known as Lucia or have all these expectations laid upon me only to be wed off to a man I hardly know, and I can’t stand hearing them talk about how exciting this fucking wedding’s going to be. Nobody cares about how I feel.”
Beatrice had hated herself, but she’d crossed her arms. She was used to her sister’s antics to get out of her duties, yet she knew how much this wedding had hurt her, so why had she been so obstinate in listening to her? “So, who do you feel like?” Beatrice had asked. “Who do you want to be?”
“Lorian Ashwell,” Beatrice mouthed in the carriage. She’d not only changed her first name, which had been their grandmother’s name, but to change her last name as well, completely disregarding the Romano line their forefathers had worked so hard to create? Beatrice had yelled at her. It wasn’t like Lorian would’ve kept her name when marrying Zaahir, but it’d been too hard for Beatrice to accept. And she’d been busy with appeasing their mother and father throughout her sibling’s tantrums.
Should she’ve been more supportive? Yes. Should she’ve accepted her sister at her worst? Also yes. But she wasn’t a Visatorre. She couldn’t go back in time and fix her and Lucia’s relationship. She could only do what she could now to once again try and fix her family.
Beatrice looked down. Her little daughter was playing underneath her yellow dress. She rested her tiny chin on her knee.
“Nina, get off the ground,” Dmitri said from across the carriage.
She and Beatrice ignored him.
“Am I going to see Lucia today?” Nina asked her mother.
“I don’t think so,” Beatrice said.
“How come? How come they haven’t found her yet?”
“Because she doesn’t want to be found, apparently.”
Dmitri stared Beatrice down, his fuzzy upper lip protruding like an upset llama. “You aren’t to meet with her, Nina.”
“She can meet with her if she wishes,” Beatrice said.
Dmitri crossed his legs. Beatrice did the same, her tired eyes glaring.
“Don’t bring me any trouble today,” Dmitri warned. “ I do not want to deal with either of you today.”
“Yes, let’s not,” she said.
Dmitri grumbled something under his breath and stared outside the window instead of his own family. If they were even that. Beatrice knew he had courtesans he loved more than her, so she let it go and played with her daughter’s pigtails until the carriage stopped.
Two officers welcomed them at the carriage entrance. She’s missed these men, with their silly black hats and long swords. The burly Bělican guards wore thick furs for the harsh winters and always smelled worse than their horses. It was nice to see these men in their tight black pants again. She could see the outlines of their willies.
While the officers helped them with their luggage, Beatrice looked up to the six stories of her childhood home. Each window sparkled, the purple and yellow flags of Roma whipping high on the pointed towers. How she’d loved walking through the halls with her mother, and running along with Lucia. She’s gone through the same halls during Lucia’s wedding without this anxiety swelling in her stomach.
“Where are my mother and father?” Beatrice asked one of the officers.
“Forgive me, Your Majesty. There was an unforeseen circumstance in the main foyer that required His Majesty’s attention. I do not know of Her Majesty’s whereabouts. If you follow us, we can direct you…”
Breezing past them, Beatrice took her daughter by the hand and walked herself into the palace. They knew and she knew she didn’t need any officer telling her what to do or where to go. She was a queen now, and the only person who could stop her now was her mother and her tears.
Her high heels echoed down the marble floors. Nothing had changed since she’d left. She still passed every dead family member in every golden frame. They looked so much grander and larger in her memories.
“Where are we going?” Nina asked. “This place is so big.”
“We’re going to see your grandmother,” Beatrice explained.
She turned and found Prince Zaahir walking up to meet her. He was wearing the royal robes custom to his royal family, and his knights were safely a few steps away. Unlike Roma and Bělico, Aldaían officers—called knights—were expected to accompany the royal family everywhere they went, even to the bathroom. She spotted Kadar right beside him, his personal knight and partner. He copied his Liege and bowed.
Beatrice returned their bows. “Prince Zaahir. It’s a pleasure to meet you again. And Sir Kadar, good morning.”
“The pleasure is all mine, Your Majesty.” Zaahir reached for her hand and kissed it, then air-kissed both of her cheeks.
“Have you heard anything from her?” Beatrice whispered into his close ear.
“Not yet,” he whispered back, then fell back into line and cleared his throat. “And a good morning to you as well, Your Highness,” he said to Nina. “I hope the carriage ride from your ship was to your tastes.”
Nina hid half of her face in Beatrice’s dress, staring up at the man she saw as a stranger.
“She’s a little under the weather,” Beatrice explained, not wanting to go into detail about how her husband had made her cry twice on the boat ride here.
“I see. It seems we’ve come to this palace at rather inopportune moments.”
“You can say that again,” Beatrice muttered, then properly, “How do you mean?”
“I heard there was a commotion in the main foyer. I’m sure it’s nothing,” he added, though his eyes said everything but. He nodded his head an inch to the left. “Your mother is in her study.”
“Perfect,” she said, though she didn’t know if that was truly so. Her mother being in her study meant only one thing: she was in a bad bout of depression and needed help.
He offered her his hand, and the two of them walked side by side. Kadar followed behind his monarch-to-be. Nina watched them over Beatrice’s dress.
“How are you, truly?” Zaahir whispered to Beatrice.
“Wanna slit my throat and be done with this,” she said. “Dmitri’s getting on my nerves and I’m ready to murder someone.”
“I hear you. I came in last night. Your mother has been…bad, honestly. I won’t sugarcoat for you.”
“I figured. I tried writing to her, but her letters come farther and farther apart.”
“I think it’ll do right by you to see her. I’ve tried to talk with her, but she’s been taking Lucia’s disappearance hard.”
Beatrice walked a little faster to get to her mother.
Her mother had held herself up in this study room since Beatrice was small. Even before that, she must’ve had this room to herself since she married that bastard of a husband. It was full of artwork and vases, of bookshelves and quilts she’d knitted herself. She did her work here, read her, relaxed when the world expected so much of her. As a child, Beatrice would run inside and sit on her mother’s dress while she looked over documents. Sometimes her mother would braid her long hair, making it look exactly like hers.
Beatrice steeled herself as she knocked and entered the room.
Her mother was sitting on one of her fainting chairs, one hand over her eyes, the other absently playing with a braid in her hair. Once she heard company, she immediately sat up and folded down her dress, but Beatrice saw the bags under her eyes. She saw the look in her eyes that mirrored Beatrice’s.
“Oh.” She smiled sadly. “Bea.”
At the nickname, Beatrice let down her guard and jogged up to meet her mother’s embrace.
She inhaled her scent of lotions and powder, how rich and at-home she smelled and felt in Beatrice’s arms. She wasn’t as tall as her mother, but in their heels, they almost stood eye to eye like equal queens, though she could never imagine being on truly equal grounds with her mother.
“I’m so glad to see you again,” her mother whispered. “I’ve missed you so much, ever since…”
“Don’t worry,” Beatrice said, “we’ll find her.”
Her mother pulled back, sniffled once with eyes closed, then nodded with a more at-ease smile. “Of course. Have you met with your father yet?”
“Oh, alright.” She dropped that subject. Neither of them wanted to see him if they didn’t have to. “Well, have you eaten anything? Either of you?” she said to Nina. “Are you hungry? I believe the cooks were making dinner for your arrival. I haven’t been out much, but Carmine said he needed to work on something and left a while ago.”
“Let’s see what he’s been up to. I’ve missed him.”
“He’s been doing well, a-as well as your father,” she added. “They’re both well.”
“Please, you don’t have to bring him up. Let’s wait until we’re forced into his company.”
Her mother caught herself from laughing too loudly. “Of course.”
From outside, Zaahir and his knights introduced themselves and bowed at ninety-degree angles.
“Your Majesty, it’s a pleasure to see you again,” Zaahir said. “It’s good to see you up and about.”
“Yes. It’s good to keep going, despite the circumstances.”
“Even when the world’s going to shit,” Beatrice mumbled, and her mother smiled.
“But you aren’t going to believe it,” Zaahir said to Beatrice. “It seems like those future selves are more of a problem than we expected.”
“Future selves?” Beatrice questioned.
“Didn’t you receive a letter in the post from your father?”
“I haven’t heard from my father in months. Dimtri said he had a business arrangement with my father that needed our attention.” She rolled her eyes. “He doesn’t tell me anything about what’s going on. Be the only helpful royal man here and tell me what’s going on?”
“Your father sent me a message describing an incident that happened at Durante Academy. Something about a Constable getting assaulted in a dorm room, and then he’d encountered two…They’ve been calling them ‘future selves’ of a student and an officer-in-training that’d been at the school that semester. They seem to be the older versions of these two and have been causing a ruckus around this kingdom.”
“That sounds…fantasy-like,” she said, “quite honestly. Have you met with these people?”
Kadar instantly appeared in front of Zaahir and defended him against the wall. The other knights aided in Beatrice’s, Nina’s, and the queen’s protection. A man’s voice echoed down the four-way intersection they were about to cross, sounding overly irritated and angry at whoever he was running after.
Keeping Nina back, Beatrice leaned around the corner and watched as Constable Carmello Carmine ran after a beautiful, laughing Visatorre woman in a blue dress.
The woman was skipping down the hall like she owned it. Her dress said as much, for as she ran past, Beatrice recognized the diamonds she wore as the beautiful Cyro diamonds sought after from the desert caves of Aldaí. It might’ve been more expensive than her own dress, though she’d never met this noblewoman before.
The woman caught Beatrice staring. “Oh, hey!” She whipped around as she ran, then teleported to stand in a window sill not too far off. She hiked up one leg as she admired them. “What a sight. So many royals all in one hall!”
Beatrice blinked at her. She could see her bloomers. She did not know if the girl knew that she could see her bloomers.
“Wait!” Carmine came in after her, hat skewed and face red from the chase. “Get away from them!”
“Oh, hush.” The woman stood up on the windowsill and, with an extravagant bow, disappeared into another jump.
Carmine caught his breath on the hallway corner, then saw two queens and one prince right at his nose. He choked and righted himself. “My apologies, your Majesty, your Highness, Your—” He checked down the hall, searching for the mysterious lady. “I did not mean to interrupt your, uh, stroll.”
“Are you alright?” her mother asked, reaching out to touch Carmine’s hand.
He kept his hands at his sides. “Yes, Your Majesty. It’s just that woman again.”
“Again?” Beatrice asked. “Who is she?”
“She’s a criminal with a bounty on her head for assaulting me and a handful of my officers. She’s the one who can jump freely from place to place without harm. I don’t know how she does it. All the information I have on her comes from eyewitnesses and her need to cause me grief in my own country.”
He bowed. “Please excuse me, Your Majesties, Your Highness. While it is lovely to see you again, I need to…I need—” He fixed his hat. “I need to capture this girl.”
“Don’t let us hold you up,” Beatrice said, and gestured down the hall for the chase to continue.
“Thank you.” He bowed once more, shared a concerned look with Beatrice’s mother, then took off, fixated on keeping peace in the palace.
Beatrice gave the scene a beat of silence before she lifted up her dress and ran after Carmine and the mysterious girl.
“Bea, wait.” Zaahir caught up with her, as did her mother and their entourage of guards.
“Was that the girl?” Beatrice asked. “The future self?”
“Yes,” Zaahir said. “She’s been coming and going within the palace like it’s nothing. Your father is furious with her existence. He says that she’s a threat to our civil unity, but she seems so…childish.”
Beatrice swirled her tongue in her mouth. She sounded just like Lorian.
The hallway led them into the foyer connecting the first floor to the music room. Around them were a dozen officers staring up at the foyer chandelier. The shadows and light were dancing around the portraits and people, for hanging on the curved metal, bending the candles still in place, was Carmine, jacket askew, hat mysteriously gone. He was bracing himself on the light fixture so he didn’t fall.
After flailing and ordering his men to grab a different ladder, the chandelier swung clockwise, and he noticed Beatrice, her mother, and Zaahir staring up at him.
“Your Highnesses…es.” He gave the best bow he could. His breath was shortening. “Forgive me, again, for the state I’m in.”
“Were you not just running after her?” Beatrice asked.
“That woman seems to have an agenda on placing me in very precarious situations with her ability to control her jumps. She just touches me and she whisks me away. Where is that ladder? Someone get me a ladder!” he shouted down at his officers, and six of them ran about to find said ladder.
“That woman hung you up there?” Beatrice asked, watching Carmine turn in another circle. “How did she manage such a feat?”
“She jumps behind me, then places me in these predicaments for her amusement. We must find her, and her accomplice. Her name is Aida Mirko from a small farm town in Bělico, and her accomplice was…” He thought hard on the name. “I believe the boy’s name was Lorian Ashwell. Your Majesty, Your Highness, have you heard of two such people?”
Beatrice looked up. Blinked. Looked over at Zaahir who was looking at her. He blinked.
“No, we have not,” she said for both of them, and wondered just what her sister had done to humiliate the royal family this time.
She couldn’t wait to find out.