Lorian didn’t know what to do amidst the chaos unfolding around them, so all they did was cling on to Aida’s slipper and pray that whatever she was doing, it wouldn’t end up killing her.
“Kadar, protect her!” Zaahir yelled.
Kadar tensed at being named outright. His foot stepped towards where Aida went. The other stayed pointing at his prince.
“Now,” he said, urgency in his eyes.
After a second warning, Kadar bowed and swiftly outmaneuvered the Roman officers to run after Aida.
The crowds crashed together like a violent sea. Aida’s untimely departure had parted them but also sent a dozen more people in to see what’d made King Durante yell loud enough to ruin his own child’s wedding a second time.
The king, sensing either disloyalty or his suddenly tense demeanor, turned to Carmine. “What were you waiting for? Was this not your mission of months, to find these two and keep them from ruining all that Roma stands for? Now’s your chance to prove yourself, so go!”
“A moment, please,” their mother said. “Lorian—”
“Silence,” their father said. “Constable, go!”
Carmine lowered his head from the amount of pressure building on it. It took the king striking him in the side for him to act.
He staggered forwards, his hand reaching for his rapier.
Lorian backed away. Beatrice gave him a disgusted look. Zaahir, untroubled by showing his contempt for Roma, went for something sharp hidden in his royal tunic.
The king eyed his watchful people, his lingering family, his distrustful guards. “I will not stand for any of this,” he said at Lorian. “You are my child, you are meant to do as you’re told, and ever since you were born, you were defiant. I am done giving into these childish games, Lorian. Lucia. Whatever you think you are, you are mine, and you will do as you’re told.”
Officers barged through the crowd, swords drawn, stances tall. Women shrieked at the possibility of death and ran with their escorts.
Carmine, in an automatic manner, took his own step forwards. His rapier, the one Lorian had stolen from him all those months ago, was unsheathed. Its long slice of metal-on-metal shinged from its holster. He turned and aimed it at the only threat to Roma.
The crowd gasped. The officers lowered their blades, confused. Lorian’s mother covered her opened mouth in horror.
The king stared deeply into the blade pointed at him, the realness of this mutiny finally settling on his stern-looking face.
“I won’t…I won’t let you strike fear into this child’s heart any longer,” Carmine promised. “This needs to end, tonight.”
Lorian watched in stunned silence. Ever since their childhood, they’d watched Carmine rise in rank and power. They got giddy whenever a new medal was added to his breast pocket, not knowing that that kind of power would eventually harden him into an unrecognizable man.
To throw that away, to risk his own neck at the blade of a guillotine, all for them…
Despite the circumstances, the king sneered at the threat against his own life. “I knew it,” he said. “I knew you were always on her side. You always treated them as your own. ”
Carmine cocked his head. He nervously turned the blade over in his hand, weighing it. “That’s because they are.”
Their mother, who could no longer hold herself up, fell to her knees, hands over her face like a petrified spider.
Lorian agreed. Comparatively, Carmine had been more of a father than their own father had ever been. He’d braided their hair, been the one Lorian went to whenever something changed in their body because their mother was always near their father. Giving them dessert and listening to them when they needed a pair of ears and an embrace to fall into. It hadn’t been his place—he’d been an officer-in-training, a family friend—but still, whenever Lorian needed them, whenever Beatrice needed a new dress or the two of them wanted to play in the gardens…
All they saw was Carmine.
When none of the adults spoke up, Lorian’s heart, beating rapidly in their chest, went cold.
Carmine’s confident hand trembled with the weight of his words. “That’s why I won’t let you harm them any longer. Your paranoia and anguish has driven you into hysteria and has infected all of your officers. I can’t stand the way you treat your people, your children. They are the ones to control the world when we grow too old to fight for ourselves. I have pledged my loyalty not only to your family but also the future of Roma, and I do not see it in your eyes. Not anymore. I see it in Lorian’s and Beatrice’s. I see it in my children’s future.”
The crowd, who’d tried to stay silent during the tense exchange, broke all formalities of a duel and began to whisper. Questioning whispers, bold whispers of rumors that would’ve been charged for absurd gossip. But then, when nobody stopped them, they grew in numbers, in volume. Officers joined in. Delegates from Aldaí turned to their translators to follow the noise. It grew the storm of confusion into something neither man could control.
Lorian’s father looked at his pupils discovering what’d been true for years, hidden underneath his and everyone’s noses until now.
In Lorian’s periphery, Beatrice wavered. Her daughter held onto her hips to keep her steady, but Lorian saw all sense of logic cross and die in her wide eyes.
Carmine angled his blade back on the king. “This needs to end,” he told Durante. “Stop this wedding.”
The king’s hot face went white. “Be quiet,” he said. “You’re…This’s preposterous. I am their father.”
“You’re infertile,” Carmine said. “You always were. Your doctors—”
“—did everything they could, but nothing could come from it.”
“So you’d tried different methods and failed. You tormented Rosalia with doubt that she was the one who couldn’t bear children. To appease your ruthless hands upon her, she asked me…” He smiled. “She asked me the greatest honor I could bestow to my queen, and I did so happily.”
Durante’s face exploded in rage. Growling like a true animal, he stole a sword from a nearby officer and lunged for his second-in-command.
The crowds still with them fled while officers stepped up. Carmine parried the first attack, then blocked the second by ducking. Their swords clashed, echoing across the foyer. The two rivaled one another in endurance and speed until each one was dealing out near-death swings at every turn.
Zaahir jumped back, protected by a spare knight he’d brought along with him. Beatrice hid her daughter in the crowd. Two officers hauled off Lorian’s mother to safer grounds.
“Carmello!” she yelled. “Carmello, stop!”
Lorian’s hand subconsciously opened and unopened by their side, their grip lost without a future tethering them down. Their identity, their purpose, all of it was washing away from them.
We’re they even considered royal anymore? Did any of this formality even matter when, in the eyes of the state, they and their sister were now considered bastard children of the crown?
They tried to leave the foyer, but their feet wouldn’t budge. They brought their hands to their face and found that they were trembling.
Carmine was their father.
An officer knocked into them and dropped them to the floor. Zaahir was being hauled away despite his protests to help. People were running now, and the strongest, most loyal officers were surrounding their king in yielding support.
One got up behind Carmine with their sword raised.
“Carmine!” Lorian shouted.
Carmined turned in time and parried it, but Durante, finding an advantage, attacked him from behind and struck his middle with the butt of his blade.
His belt came undone as he fell. He coughed and rolled to his side, where the remaining officers tackled him to the ground. They held up his head to look up at his king.
Durante raised his sword. “No matter what you think you are, you are nothing to your king.”
Carmine spit at his feet. “But I am, and have always been, everything to the wife that you’ve sorrowfully took for granted.”
Durante dug his boot into Carmine’s shoulder, arching his neck for a perfect hit. As he examined him like a piece of meat, his eyes, so cold and distant, locked onto Lorian across the room. His bushy eyebrow twitched in rage after so many years of failing to meet his above-average expectations.
He lowered his sword, not to bury it into Carmine’s neck, but to angle it in a way that he could run with it.
Five wide steps and he was above Lorian. His sword arched like a crescent moon to cut into Lorian’s skull.
“No!” their mother screamed.
And Lorian, so foolishly, closed their eyes.
The blade struck another so quickly, so loosely, that Lorian believed they’d heard things wrong. Nobody had come in-between them to stop them. They should’ve been dead.
They opened up their eyes to a flow of brilliant blond hair standing against them and their father.
Ducking in-between Lorian and Durante, Beatrice deflected the king’s blade and pushed him back to give herself room with her own stolen blade.
Lorian’s heart pulsed in their neck. They looked up to their sister, arms shaking from holding up the body that was still breathing because of her.
“Like I’m gonna let you ruin their life a second time,” Beatrice said, and slashed upwards at their fake father.
Durante stumbled backwards and missed his chance to kill both of his own two alleged children. Beatrice didn’t. She parried and blocked each careworn swing Durante dared to throw at her. When he had the chance, he called for the men still allegiant to him. “Stop her!”
The officers lowered their weapons. Durante against Carmine was an easier side for them to choose. Durante against both Lorian and more so Beatrice…
Beatrice turned in her heels and pivoted her body in such a way that moved Durante away from Carmine. He was thrashing like a fish to get free, which the officers, now undecided whose side they were on, were becoming more lenient with. Hitting one hard in the mouth, Carmine scrambled out and ran, only pausing to look between a sobbing Rosalia, a defenseless Lorian, and Beatrice aiming to spill the king’s blood.
“All you’ve been is a fucking thorn in my side,” Durante said at Beatrice. “You’ve never behaved. You’re just like your sister.”
“We’re twins, you piece of shit. What do you expect?” She parried another one of his blows that sliced too close to her head. It knocked the crown off of his head and clattered it to the floor.
Durante lost his footing and Beatrice walked him into the center of the foyer. “I am done listening to you sputter out commands and destroy our lives just for your own gain. Lorian and I are our own people, and you cannot ruin the world’s prosperity for advantages to country’s you hate.”
“Shut up! Just—!” Without any warning or forms of strategy, Durante fell forwards and thrust his sword out.
Blood spilled down the front of Beatrice’s burgundy dress like the flower petals sewn into the fabric. She stepped back, not yet processing the pain she should’ve been feeling.
The sword plunged deep into her right arm, angling her forearm in an odd way that didn’t look right.
Then her severed arm fell to the floor like dead weight, and the room erupted into screams.