After promising Lorian that she wouldn’t go far, as she hid away in the clock tower, she began practicing her jumps. Backwards, forwards, in the same timeline, just three meters to the right. She wanted to be prepared in case her ending a royal wedding would backfire and her future self would just watch her and laugh.
She hadn’t managed a single jump in the past ten hours.
“Oh, come on!”
She focused on the jump itself, then on the timeline, then on her body and where it was in the universe and how she needed to refigure herself in a different place. When that didn’t work, she tried to physically jump, doing the obnoxious twirls her future self liked to do to show off, but it only caused the floorboards to creak and make her too nervous to sleep in fear of being caught. She had Carmine’s word that no one would find her, but she trusted the man’s ability in himself as far as she could jump.
So, without the means to jump herself into the king’s quarters without physically hopping herself into it, she spent the rest of the morning working up her plot to fuck over the royal family.
She crossed out the page she was scrawling on and tossed it near the clock face. Carmine had made her a bed with a plump comforter, sheets, and two pillows, as well as an oil-lit lantern and some paper and quills. He also brought her food, but she wasn’t hungry.
“Carmie,” she drawled, “on a scale of one to ten, how willing will the king be in having a meeting with me about the past after my future self kicked him in the face?”
“Don’t call me that.” He offered her another slice of shortcake. This was the second one he’d brought up from the kitchens. “And why do you wish to speak with him? I thought you were going to do something to stop the marriage.”
“They’re all tied together, Carmie. I need to tell him the truth about his history. His wife’s great-great-great-whatever grandfather not only murdered Queen Eve under, let’s be honest, shoddy pretenses, he also murdered the entire race of Visatorre just for her sleeping with the queen.”
“I don’t want to hear this,” he said, ears hot.
“But you have to. It’s discrimination. The king was fucking Eve, too, yet he’s not dethroned for sleeping with her. It’s all so convoluted and stupid, and that fucker needs to hear it. I also have to convince him about the very real person that is Circa.”
“I still don’t believe you on actually seeing her.”
“I don’t have to make you believe, I need the royals to.” She gathered her notes. “I’ve narrowed some of Lorian’s talking points down to either demanding a hearing with the king about saving them from this fate, kidnapping Lorian in exchange for a hearing, or burning the whole palace to the ground.” She stared him straight in the face, then threw her papers in the air. “So I got nothing right now.”
“I’ve heard that Queen Beatrice and Prince Zaahir have been asking for a hearing with him, but he’s denied both of their requests, and he’s said he doesn’t want to see Lorian until the ceremony. I’ve heard word that he doesn’t want to see her—them—until they walk down the aisle.”
“What an ass.” She started on a fresh page. “I can’t imagine just asking him to hear me out, and the queen won’t be helpful in that regard.”
“She’s trying her best,” he said under his breath.
“I know she is. Can you imagine being married to that man? My self-esteem would be more of a wreck than it already is.”
“Do you need anything from me at this moment?”
She looked up. “If you can get me some more cigarettes, that’d be great, because I’m down to my last pack and I’ll need another one before I come up with a good enough solution to this nightmare.”
“Here.” He offered her a pack from his back pocket.
She took it. “I didn’t know you smoked.”
“I don’t. Lorian said you might want them.”
She hated herself for how big she smiled. “Oh, also, before you leave, Carmie, I need you to buy me something.”
“You need me to buy you something? No, absolutely not. I said I’d protect you, not be your personal chauffeur. And stop calling me that.”
She pouted at him, crossing her arms with her quill in her mouth.
His eye twitched. “What do you even need from me?”
“A dress,” she said. “The fanciest, most beautiful dress you can find.”
Through strategic bullying, Aida got Carmine to cave beneath her foot and buy her dress. She didn’t know where he’d obtained one for her size and measurements, but the morning of the wedding, she awoke to a box decorated in pearls with a red bow.
“Aw, for me?” she teased. “What is this? Did you really get me a good one? How’s your taste in fashion?”
“I don’t know. I just went to the store Her Majesty commissions her dresses from. La Madame’s Boutique. You gave little to no instructions as to what dress you had in mind, so I thought going there would suffice, given the short time frame you allotted me.”
Aida opened the long box, and out poofed out layers and layers of pure white. She couldn’t tell the dimensions or the bust or waist size with how thick and full it was with class, but the texture felt nice, nothing she’d hate wearing for a few hours.
“I didn’t know what color or size you needed,” he repeated, flustered now, “so I picked the first one I saw in the window.”
She found herself grinning. “I never said for you to get a white dress.”
“Well.” He looked away, but she saw him trying to suppress a smile. “For the occasion, I thought it’d be appropriate.”
“Appropriately antagonistic. Who wears white to a wedding other than the bride? My future self’s rubbing off on you, Carmine. You’re becoming a maverick.”
“I’d say the same thing’s happening to you.”
“Don’t insult me.” She placed the dress against her chest, then saw that Carmine had also bought her matching white slippers.
“Ha.” She tried stepping into the shoe. “That’s cute you think I’m a size six.”
“Well, I don’t know the average shoe size of a woman your age. I based it on Beatrice and Lorian’s sizes.”
“Lorian has massive feet.” She showed the size difference between her augmented shoes and the ones he’d bought for her. She tried them on for his sake, and couldn’t deny that they looked, and felt, pretty.
She brought the whole outfit over to the stained glass of the clock tower. In the glass, she saw her hazy reflection adorned in white. She loved dresses ever since she was a child, but growing up, her mother gave her dresses akin to rags. And nothing was ever in her size, so they were either too small or too loose around the edges that made her feel insecure.
This dress, while she was too afraid to try it on, made her feel confident and beautiful.
She got too giddy thinking about Lorian seeing her in this and stuffed it back inside its box.
Carmine cleared his throat. “So, uh, since I have no idea how fashion works, and I suppose you want to show up to Lorian’s wedding whether I tell you it’s a bad idea or not—”
“I have someone who might be of help. While I’ve been to many fittings, I don’t know how to make a dress…shine.” He went to the door and peeked it open, then nodded at the person and introduced them to Aida’s lair.
It was honestly the first time she’d met Beatrice face to face, though she knew that Beatrice had been with her more times since then. Lorian had mentioned her help in the Catacombs and her going to Missus Sharma’s place, and Aida had seen paintings of her all throughout Bělico, but this was the first time meeting her properly. She did look a lot like Lorian, them being twins, obviously, but her makeup and subtle ways she did up her long hair showed a more feminine side of her Aida wasn’t used to.
She bowed to Aida. Aida bowed back.
“It’s nice to finally meet you,” Beatrice said. “My apologies for taking so long to introduce myself to you. My family, as you may be aware, is falling apart at the moment.”
“I hear you,” Aida said, not knowing if she was being deadpan or not about her true feelings. “You…don’t have to get involved in this, if you don’t want to. Your Majesty.” She had no idea how to tread these waters. They were the same age and came from the same country, more or less, but this was like confronting Lorian’s mother, a true queen.
Suddenly, she was feeling quite self-conscious of how she looked, sounded, and was around this girl.
“On the contrary,” Beatrice said. “I’ve heard that Lorian is quite fond of you, and from what I’ve gathered from those two future selves, it seems you’ll be with them for a long time. It’s been months and neither of us have gotten to learn from each other. And Carmine said you might’ve needed help getting ready. You can imagine how I never had a chance to give another girl a proper makeover.” She took a hairbrush from somewhere on her dress. “If you’d let me, I’d love to help you get ready for my twin’s disastrous weedding.”
Aida’s eyebrows shot up to her Visatorre marking. Maybe this girl was her age and also a queen who had a difficult past with her sibling and her family, but alone like this, Aida could see how she was just a lonely girl interested in making friends with her sibling’s lover.
“Sure,” Aida said, and for the first time in Beatrice’s adult life, Beatrice smiled.