She hadn’t meant to fall asleep with Lorian. She’d wanted to stay up and guard them, but when they’d fallen asleep in her arms, she couldn’t help herself. She’d wanted to forget that their hateful world existed for one night.
She’d been right: Love was a terrible decision to lose yourself in.
Lorian covered up their chest, but the Constable had finally caught on. After months of hunting down his time-traveller fugitive, after months without his beloved heir, he’d found both of them in the same place.
He tried to form the words, but nothing was coming out of his gaping mouth. He kept backing up until he hit the desk and dropped a few books to the ground. It spooked him enough to swallow back his stuttering. “I don’t…understand.”
Lorian scooted up to Aida and held her, glaring at the Constable like a dog barely tethered to their tree.
“Why…why’re you here?” the Constable finally said. “What’ve you been doing to us?”
“I haven’t done anything wrong,” Lorian said.
“I thought…” Their throat closed up at the last word. “We thought you were dead.”
“Funny what a haircut and a corset can do to someone.”
Someone shouted outside. A door slammed open and a flurry of boots flooded the cabin.
The Constable looked between the attic door and Lorian. He held out his hand. “Wait—”
Four officers came up through the hidden door with their swords drawn. Two went for the bed immediately while two others stood back and gasped at the sight before them.
Lorian kicked at one of the officer’s. “Get away!”
“Wait Wait.” The Constable picked up his rapier. “Tell me what’s going on. Why’re you…How did this happen?”
“What’s going on?” one of the officers asked.
“Should we call for backup?”
“No. For God’s sake, just stand down.” The Constable pinched the bridge of his nose. “Do you have any idea what your mother has gone through because of this?”
“There hasn’t been a day when that hasn’t crossed my mind,” Lorian said.
The rest of the daft officers finally caught on with their unit and lowered their weapons.
“This…must be dealt with by their Majesties,” the Constable concluded. “We need to tell Rosalia—Her Majesty—and His Majesty, of course…” He closed his eyes for a three count, then came back to his true self. The emotions died in his glazed-over eyes. “The king has asked me to take care of the girl.” He jabbed a finger at Aida, bringing her back into the picture. “You are returning back to your village in Bělico.”
“Excuse me?” Aida asked.
“His Royal Majesty said he had no use for you, knowing your future self is off gallivanting with more important information and power. He said he had no use detaining a person who can jump on their own free will.”
Both Aida and Lorian held their tongue. She could only guess that she had some power to control her jumps—she went to Eve every time, the only timeline that mattered—but she couldn’t jump willy nilly. She couldn’t even control how long she was in the past or where exactly she landed. She kept that to herself.
“You…can’t,” Lorian said. “Her mother’s—”
“Meanwhile, we’ll bring Lucia back to the palace. Her parents need to know that we found her alive.”
“We’ll take my carriage. Keep this quiet and don’t let anyone know until you get into the Palace. We can’t let this out to the public.”
“I’ll scream,” Lorian said.
“They’ll gag you.”
“Then I’ll fight.”
“Then they’ll bind you. You’re going back home whether you like it or not, Your Highness. This game is over. You are a princess and you are meant to obey.”
Aida slipped out of bed and went for her knife. As if she was going back home. She’d scream for Lorian’s sake, and fight until they broke both of her legs. But she wasn’t going back to that prison. She wouldn’t let that happen.
Just as she grabbed hold of the knife, an officer slammed her into the headboard and handcuffed her wrists behind her.
“Get off her!” Lorian kicked the man away. The Constable and two of his men restrained them with handcuffs.
“Wait a moment!” Lorian begged. “Please, at least let us change first. I am still royalty. Give us some dignity.”
It looked like the Constable considered this, like his humanity was still there behind his souless eyes. Then he looked away. “You have two minutes.”
Aida didn’t move. She felt that she’d landed on her hip wrong. It pulsed in pain, but she was far too proud and pissed off to say anything. She could not go back home. She would’ve rather died.
She looked to the floor, holding herself up with her cane. Before Lorian, she would’ve rather died. If she was being forced back to that fucking farm after being expelled and captured by the head Constable of Roma City, she would’ve jumped out a window thinking she’d sunk to her lowest low. She’d done everything to escape that household, she’d spent all of her earnings on that boat to Roma for a chance to restart.
But now, she had Lorian. And Missus and Mi’Sharma. Onti and Chrissie, people who liked her and protected her and gave her a home and real, familial love. And she needed to find out the last pieces of Eve’s life, and she needed to kick Future Aida’s ass for letting all this happen to her. This wasn’t her ending.
As Lorian shamelessly got dressed in front of the men meant to serve them, Aida focused on the swirling patterns of the wooden floorboards. They either stretched out to the walls or ended in dark knots like how scientists thought the universe looked. With how many knots were in this room, she could envision hundreds of universes all interconnected.
Her hands sunk into the floorboards like sand, fuzzy and cold. She held her head not in pain but to hold back this rush of fuzziness.
The Constable walked up to her. She felt a hand come close. “Are you alright?”
To give her answer, Aida gave him the finger. “Get fucked,” she said, and jumped into time.
She landed on her knees instead of her face. Her bloomers kept her knees from getting scraped, as she landed on wet stone and icy snow.
She turned to see the log cabin only thirty meters behind her. Two officer carriages were parked by the lake, unguarded. The royal horses nibbled on what grass they could find.
She looked up to the window in the attic. She could just outline Lorian’s blond hair as they paused to get their ruffled shirt on. They were staring off to their side where Aida had been not a moment prior.
She touched her face, making sure she’d made the jump in one piece, before staggering to her feet and deciding if she should book it or not. She had a head start into the woods, but Lorian, she couldn’t abandon them.
Lorian started looking around the room and, be it fate or bad luck, noticed her. It alerted the other officers to the window, then the Constable. The officers disappeared on a mute order given by their leader.
Lorian shoved the Constable aside and threw open the window. “Run, Aida! Go!”
Her feet started moving before her brain told them to stop. She didn’t want to leave them, but she couldn’t worry them with being caught. They likely wouldn’t kill the spare heir, but a disabled Visatorre girl with a bite? Her sentence was more set in stone. She ran.
She’d done it. She’d willed a jump to occur. What was different? Had she earned the second circle on her forehead? Back at the palace, she’d tried a hundred times to jump. It was why she hadn’t let go of Lorian’s hand in case she was able to jump them back ten minutes in the future, or the past, but she would’ve seen herself if that’d happened.
A headache was beginning to form behind her eyes. Future Aida was right. Thinking about time travel hurt one’s brain.
The Constable’s orders carried into the forest. They must’ve not taken any horses on their hunt because the Constable didn’t think he needed one to catch her. That, or he’d forgotten to grab the reins and lost time deciding whether or not to go back for his steed. For Aida’s amusement, she hoped for the latter.
She knew it was fruitless to keep running, but it felt good knowing she was giving the Constable grief. He deserved it for all the terror and madness he’d give them for the next few years. Like she wouldn’t make him run for her.
His boot steps came in closer, faster, two steps for every one of Aida’s. She wondered if her cane was making a difference and if it’d be better to use it as a weapon.
Knowing she couldn’t find her way out quicker than he could, Aida stopped mid-run and swept the Constable under his feet with her cane. She then turned right down towards a stream, but the Constable grabbed her ankle and brought her down with him.
They struggled for better leverage, Aida knocking him with her good shoeless foot, the Constable grabbing at her arms and belly. The strength he should’ve had stayed back as he refused to kick or punch her, but Aida wasn’t as kind. She hit, struck, scratched, bit. She’d continue to fight and run until her bastard of a leg gave out and her cane almost snapped in two.
“Stop it!” The Constable tried sitting on her so she’d quit squirming. “Stop fighting me!”
“Fuck you! Fuck you and the crown!”
The officers who’d followed the Constable into the forest had caught up. They had their swords drawn, circling them.
Aida took the end of her cane and whacked the Constable in the face. The impact hit harder than she’d expected and flung his head backwards. She paused. She hadn’t meant that.
Without looking, the Constable flipped Aida on her stomach, and a ready officer handcuffed her wrists behind her back. The metal pinched at her skin and made her squeak in pain.
“We’re done,” the Constable panted, and snatched her cane from her. “We’re done.”
To her surprise, they didn’t walk her back to the cabin. The forest trails she’d used to run away vanished into the thicket.
“Where’re we going?” she asked.
The Constable brought her into a clearing somewhere in the shallow depths of the forest. Between the thinner trees, she saw and heard the morning bustle of the main streets. Beams of yellow sunlight shone over the immaculate carriage she’d once egged without remorse.
Two officers opened the side door for her and the Constable and hopped into the coachmen’s seat. The horses shuffled in place, ready for travel. Aida did the same but kicked the door and the carriage’s wooden wheels.
“Knock it off!” the Constable shouted, and shoved her into the back seat, clearly disgusted with her childish behavior and even more upset with the fact that they’d be riding together.
Aida glared the Constable down as the carriage rode over the snowy earth. A patch of blood was dripping down his forehead and his uniform had tears in it, but he either didn’t notice or didn’t care. He took out to a pad of parchment with a quill and began writing something down.
Aida willed herself to jump again, but her mind was too full. She needed a way to escape not only this carriage but the Constable and his goons for a third time while her hands were bound. Could she jump within a small space? How had she done it again? She’d been thinking of universes.
The carriage rolled over more stable ground Aida only assumed was a road—she couldn’t tell; the windows were glossy and frosted over, though she saw the outlines of buildings. Were they seriously going to book a boat ride for Bělico today, with her looking so homely? These men truly had no standards.
The Constable flipped a page of his parchment. “I see you’ve acquired that hideous glare from Lucia. I thought she’d outgrown it by now.”
“That’s not their name.”
He looked up.
“They go by Lorian now, and they ain’t gonna be a princess. No matter how many crowns or gowns you force them to wear after this, they’re going to tear all of it away because they don’t want that life anymore.” She clicked her tongue. “One of the many reasons they left was to get that through your heads. Clearly, it never worked.”
The Constable’s upper lip curled. “How was I supposed to know that?”
“Was the name change, wardrobe change, and haircut not dead giveaways?” She squinted out the window. “Are you seriously taking me back to Bělico?”
“His Majesty commanded it.”
“Wouldn’t it make more sense to have me imprisoned?”
“He said there was no point because you can jump. You should be thanking His Majesty. He’d originally wanted you hung, but Her Majesty The Queen asked that no harm come to either of you. He conceded and said that taking you back home and stripping away your rights to enter Roma again would suffice for now.”
“Take away my—?” She choked on a laugh. “As if you don’t do that every damn day! You work for a man who’s thrown away every chance I’ve earned to be normal. A scholarship I fought to get, gone! My residency, gone! For what reason? Because—” She would’ve pointed to her Visatorre marking, but since her hands were cuffed, she simply looked up at it. “Because of this circle? How pathetic.”
“I don’t have the power to change that.”
“But you enforce it. You have the chance to change the fate of people like me but you don’t. You’re just as bad as he is.”
He sat up straighter. “If it were up to me—”
She widened her eyes, waiting.
He averted his. “Forget it.”
“There! See? If you want to help us, fucking do something about it. Don’t be a watchdog for a man who doesn’t respect you or your opinions.”
“My opinions don’t matter in the course of my job. I have been with the crown for more than twenty-five years. I try my damndest to keep Roma safe while keeping my oaths to Their Majesties.”
“Fuck the king and queen.”
The Constable’s jaw dropped. “How dare you—”
“Oh, shut up. I know for a fact that that bloodline is a lost cause. The queen has no spine when it comes to her rule, and her husband hits his children, for God’s sake. Lorian’s told me everything, so don’t try to deny it.”
The Constable set down his paperwork. “Don’t talk to me about the hardships Lucia and Beatrice have faced in their childhood. I was there. I watched them grow up, I was there to comfort them when they were struck. Do you think I enjoy children suffering? Don’t you think that if I had the slightest bit of power in those walls that I wouldn’t be fighting day and night for their protection? I had to sit there and watch, knowing that if I ever stood up for them, I would be sentenced to the gallows for speaking out of turn.”
He squared out his shoulders. “I love those two with all of my heart. Don’t you dare insinuate anything else.”
“I didn’t insinuate that you didn’t love them, I said the way the king treats them is the same way my stepmother treats me. They’re abusive and cruel, and delivering us back to them is allowing the cruelty to continue.”
Keeping her gaze for as long as possible, the Constable reached for his reports and thumbed through his notes. “I have no records of abuse in your family.”
“Do you think my mother would’ve ever brought it up to anyone, or that it wasn’t obvious to everyone in Bělico that a young and defenseless little Visatorre girl would’ve been treated like cattle in a non-Visatorre Bělican family? I was adopted off the streets and treated like a slave until I got accepted into my dream school. You have no idea how happy I was to finally run away from my life and start anew here. And then you came along and stripped all of that away from me based on a prejudiced ruling that wasn’t fair and you know it wasn’t.”
He tried reading through his papers again, then threw back his head, sighed, and began undoing his jacket’s yellow buttons, revealing only a white button-down.
Aida pushed back. “What’re you doing?”
“I can’t hold a conversation with you looking like this.” He got up and placed the jacket around her shoulders.
She went to kick him in the balls when she saw the tenderness in his mannish hands, the way his mustache looked this close up. He smelled of coffee and a bit like the forest, likely from searching all night with copious amounts of caffeine keeping him awake. Add a bit of manure underneath his fingernails and he would’ve reminded her of what a father was supposed to be.
She let him place it around her shoulders and sit back down without hurting him, hating herself for this moment of weakness. From her night with Lorian to running for her life to thinking about the very real threat of going home to making her first controlled jump, her mind had become scrambled.
But it wasn’t. It was never scrambled, she didn’t think, just working in overdrive every minute of every day. She never recognized that the sense to control a jump was always inside of her. She assumed she’d have to unlock a hidden pathway and figure everything out at once, but that’s not how the world worked. Things happened gradually like grains of sand collecting at the bottom of an hourglass until the time ran out. She assumed this was how falling in love worked: You never knew it was happening to you until the effects overtook you like magic and suddenly a person had become your person.
Her thoughts trailed off. The Constable asked her something, but her ears were clogged. Doing the only thing she could, she struck out her good leg, hitting him in the shin and making the needed connection to take him away with her.
Where, she had no idea. She could only control if she jumped, not where or how. Yet.
The two of them disappeared a second later into a timeline unknown.