Sunday the 26th
Lunar 4, Luka 16
Main Residence – The Palace at Lumena
No one noticed Portia and I slipped out and across the universe. Somehow we were to the ship and back in only about twenty minutes, even if it felt like an eternity passed in that awful palm swap. Thankfully, I was becoming an expert at shutting off the feelings part of my mind and pressing it all down until it didn’t hurt anymore, so I dried my face and got to business setting the scene. Another lie, a lie within a lie.
I laid Portia down on the ground belly first and unbuckled her shoe to make it look like she’d slipped and hurt herself, and then crammed the mirror Kipley sent us back with down my shirt. Then, I called for Eddy. She came running, along with about half a dozen guards and servants. Even though Portia was completely fine — just convinced she’d been a bit delirious from dehydration in addition to bumping her head — Eddy wouldn’t let us leave the house unsupervised at all for the rest of the week. It was just as good that way, as that meant I didn’t have to worry about the pirates harming one of my siblings again…
And, of course, Eddy had a full agenda for me.
That same night I’d gone to her about Portia’s schooling but got no real answers, just apologies, and reassurance that with time, things might shift, and perhaps fortune would smile upon my brother and sister again. It was a bitter pill to swallow, and it felt even more poisonous as the days passed and I settled more into my royal facade while things remained just so for Portia and Duncan. Some days I didn’t even see them, my schedule too ‘busy’ with lunches and tea sittings and all the other bullshit. Eddy and I spent most afternoons just practicing scripts for talking to people, all the special greetings and social gestures expected of me.
It was all sinking in a bit better now, probably because sleep and I weren’t getting along so good. Whenever I closed my eyes, I had these nightmares, visions… visions where I was Legato, I think, on some kind of beach. I’d be playing with the girls, Lianna and Eugenie, chasing after them but never able to reach them, even when this terrible sense of emptiness hollowed my chest and I dropped in the sand and couldn’t run another step. Other times my brain decided to swap in Portia and Duncan, just to make it extra awful, I guess. His loss had taken root deep inside my soul, and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get rid of it… so I just had to ignore it and go about this lie I was trapped in like it was nothing — like these people were nothing, meant nothing.
But I had learned things I couldn’t ignore.
Take Eddy, for example. Before that swap she was just a flighty, uptight security guard. Kind of annoying, right? Now it all made sense. Maybe she was a servant, but she was more like a member of the family. She’d loved those girls and the old Queen… and she loved the person Legato was once, too. She’d lost everything, and she was terrified of losing it–me–again. I couldn’t help but feel for her, to want to make her happy.
Before the party it was just Eddy and I in the mezzanine space above the meeting hall in the main wing of the palace, her doing some last-minute nitpicking and ensuring my hair and dress and everything was just so before the first event: the grand entrance. All I had to do was walk down the damn stairs. Sounds easy enough, right? And it would be, without the entire galaxy watching and waiting for you to fall on your ass and roll to the ground. That was my worst fear, made all the more real by the get up I was wearing this time: a big, poofy dark blue dress touched the floor, heels taller than I was used to, and holding my trident. Add into that having to walk just a certain way, hold my dress just so, and the reminder to remain looking forward at the cameras and look pleasant and dignified as much as possible? Oh, and also to accomplish this while keeping up the act and somehow finding the time to drop political hints?
Somehow Eddy was still more nervous than I was. “N-now remember, all you have to do is walk down,” she said, speaking so quickly her words were running together. “You’ll just hold your dress, and–”
“Eddy, I know how to walk down a flight of stairs,” I said flatly, reaching out to hold her shoulder.
Eddy clasped her hand over mine and rubbed it, dearly. “I know, darling… oh, look at you, so confident and grown up. It’s just such a large event. There’s so many people.”
Somehow I knew this all came back to safety and security. “Nothing’s going to happen,” I reassured her. “Nobody’s gonna grab me out of the palace. The entire freakin’ armada is here.”
“Don’t you say that– that word!” Eddy said, agog. “You just be careful out there. And if anything–anyone strikes you as odd, you know the signal.”
“Right, right,” I muttered, glancing over to the clock. “It’s almost time.”
Eddy was tracing a few stray pieces of hair back along my cheeks and under my new tiara, focused, like she was putting the finishing touches on a work of art. The tiara I had before was Eugenie’s, but this one was just for me. I hated that. And I didn’t want to think about what that meant, or where they got it — or how they made it, if they were still actively… making tiaras out of the skulls of people.
Senator Marsh began an announcement from outside. That was my cue.
“Go,” Eddy said, gripping both of my cheeks one last time. “It’s your time to shine, my dear!”
My heart was in my throat but I did as I was told. Only the echo of my heels trailed behind me as I walked down into the corridor, out into the light, and towards the staircase. Show time.
I waited at the top to be prompted for my next step, keeping my eyes forward all the while. Already the cameras were flashing. Nausea hit. Looking out into the sea of people waiting for me below didn’t help. They were almost all men–Ambin men, in suits–the Senators I was supposed to win over, with the occasional wife scattered around. At the bottom of the staircase waiting for me was The Queen herself, wearing purple to match my blue, and a little old lady–The Queen Mother, in her wheelchair beside her. I was supposed to walk down to them, greet them graciously, curtsey a bit, and then the deed would be done…
But one step at a time, first.
Senator Marsh began again, somewhere from the sidelines. “Presenting Her Majesty, Lucasta di Maritianius, Princess of Lumeria.”
The whole breathing thing ended for me right there.
He kept talking but it was like the sound dropped out for me. A loud ringing in my ears was all I could hear, though a dilated sense of some bass told me music was happening, too. It’s amazing how difficult something like walking can seem, even if you’re someone who does it every day, when suddenly someone adds something like a heel or a stair or a thousand cameras transmitting across every galaxy out there. One foot, and then the other. One foot, and then the other. That was how I lived my life these days. Somehow I was making it…
When I got down to the last three stairs and could see The Queen and her Mother waiting for me head on. Both were holding a bouquet of flowers: one blue, and the other, purple. Neither of them were smiling, though not frowning either, expressionless.
I curtsied when I got down from the final step, once to each of them. Neither of them responded in kind–which I knew they wouldn’t–but instead, something peculiar did happen. After Queen Luka handed me her bouquet of flowers, she took a few steps closer to me, close enough that I thought she might hit me or worse… but instead, forced me into the most uncanny and unexpected of hugs. There were audible gasps around the room, and the cameras flashed at much greater speed.
I have never been more uncomfortable in my life.
“Smile, Ms. Fenn. The Worlds will be watching,” The Queen whispered to me, giving me an awkward pat on the shoulder.
When she released me from her clutches, I lurched toward her mother, who repeated the same gesture from her chair. I knelt a bit so that she could hug me all the same, my dress poofing out around me.
“Welcome home,” came Senator Marsh’s voice, again, and a chorus of thunderous applause.
Just when I thought I was done and could maybe breathe again, a third woman close to The Queen’s age approached me, smiling a restrained but still bright smile. She too wore purple, and held a matching corsage to give to me. Her resemblance to the others was unmistakable.
“Lucasta. It’s an honor to finally meet you,” she said, reaching for my hand. “I’m Marjorie, your cousin. You can call me Marjie.”
I curtsied to her, too, and held out my arm for her to tie the corsage. Marjorie was The Queen’s younger sister. Eddy forgot to clue me in on her being here, but that was one thing I’d picked up on over the years.
“Nice to meet you, too,” I said, admiring the little bell-shaped flowers on the corsage. “And thank you.”
Marjie looked me over curiously, a certain softness I wasn’t expecting emanating from her. She didn’t give me the heebie jeebies the way the other two did, but I doubted I could trust her. Then she turned to her mother and sister and, much to my surprise, curtsied to them both. “We’re up first for pictures,” she said. “Whenever you’re ready, Your Majesty.”
The Queen acknowledged me wordlessly and led the way as the three of them went off. Eddy trotted over once they were gone, taking my bouquets. Together we cut through the crowds to make it to my own photo setting, too.
“You were marvelous, my dear!” Eddy smiled gleefully, her well-made up face contorting every which way. I’d never seen her look so proud. “Now we’ll just get a few pictures, oh, and then… a few of the Senators would like to have a word before dinner, and then your remarks…”
My head was still spinning. I didn’t hear half of what she said before I was whisked away again to stand for the portraits. The photographer instructed me to look off into the distance, so I did, into the crowds. I was looking for Jane and the others, but instead, I found a different, unexpected familiar face. The shock showed all over me right as the cameras flashed.
It was Ian Fisk.
Halfway across the room, his eyes locked on mine and he raised his glass to me. I’d seen him in that three-piece suit before at some of our school dances. His hair was all slicked back and tied up in a braid, but it was him. And his mother and father were with him.
How could I have forgotten? Senator Fisk. Ian’s dad was a Senator.
Fuck. The jig was up. I’d grown up with Fisk — knew him. And he knew me — every embarrassing, real thing about me, including the part where I’d stabbed the ever-loving shit out of him. Even if my infractions were purged now, what was that to stop them from telling everyone? From ruining everything?
When the photos were done, I looked back to try to see him again, but he was gone. Then, someone tapped me on the shoulder.
“Divine Lords, look at you!” Ian said, offering me a flute of sparkling water, before he took a half-hearted bow to me. “Your Majesty.”
“Ian.” His name fell out of my face faster than I realized I said it. “Y-you’re… here.”
“Did you think I wouldn’t be?” he said, cracking a smile. “Wouldn’t have missed this for the Worlds, Petra.”
To be real? I kind of forgot Ian Fisk existed with everything else going on. And now he was here and going to ruin everything.
Ian laughed. “Divine Lords, what’s with the face?”
Tongue-tied, I couldn’t even respond. What the fuck did he mean, what’s with the face? Like the last time I saw him I didn’t stab him? And he didn’t cut off my hair?
His father and mother came up behind him, both holding him by one shoulder each.
Mrs. Fisk smiled at me as her eyes swept over me. “Oh, Petra, it’s so nice to–I mean, Your Highness,” she said, shaking her head. “How are you, darling? How have you been?”
I glanced between the three of them awkwardly. They all looked… happy. Not at all vicious. Or mad. Or like I would’ve expected them to look like given how I mutilated their son.
“Oh I’m good,” I said, with a nervous chuckle. “How’s your hand?”
“Oh, this thing?” Ian made a fist. “It’s fine, really. I–”
“No big deal at all,” Mr. Fisk interrupted. “What he means to say is that he’s deeply, deeply sorry the whole thing ever happened.”
Ian breathed a sigh. “I know, dad. I was just about to say that.”
“I’ll have you know, he’s learned his lesson,” Mrs. Fisk said. “All those years, Petra…I mean–”
“Louie,” I said. “They call me Louie. But you can say Petra. I don’t… care.”
Mr. and Mrs. Fisk exchanged a glance, each wincing with joy at the sound of it, like they must’ve known Lucasta used that name as a child.
“Louie, yes… truth be told, I think our boy must have had a crush on you all those years,” Mrs. Fisk said. “And I don’t think he knew how to show you.”
Ian turned beet red. “MOM.”
Ah, the crush line. Sure. My parents tried to tell me something similar a few times, but it never tracked for me, especially once we got to the point where he was, you know, coming after me with a pair of scissors. If he liked me even as a friend, he had a weird way of showing it. Bullshit as the whole ‘he likes you, that’s why he tried to stab you’ line was, I did feel a certain kind of sweet, sweet justice watching him cringe like that.
Mr. Fisk nudged Ian, as though he was supposed to be saying something.
Ian turned back to me, still a bit red. “Okay, well, not that I will ever recover from this — ever. But I did want to say I was sorry. I just… it got out of hand, okay? And I know it did. And I deserved it.”
“I’m sorry, too,” I said. “I really didn’t mean for that to happen. It was an accident.”
“Then all is forgiven?” Mr. Fisk asked.
“Oh. Sure,” I said, realizing he was asking me. “Yeah.”
“Well then,” Mr. Fisk said. “I wouldn’t want to take any more of your time this evening, although if you happen to have a minute, I was hoping to have a word about the Fenns.”
“My parents?” I asked. “What about them?”
Mrs. Fisk gently brushed her husband’s arm. “Oh, look. There’s Emilia–and isn’t that little Archie Tide?” she said. “Come along, Ian. Let’s say hello!”
The two of them left with a bow before letting me sneak off to the sides a bit with Senator Fisk.
The others let us be, for the most part. It must’ve looked very official and political from the outside, for anyone who didn’t know we had history. There were occasional prying words and glances, along with the never-ending pries of camera flashes, but I felt safe enough talking about my parents. I wouldn’t miss the chance.
“I still think this is all a big mistake,” I said, to Mr. Fisk. “I mean not… me, but, what happened to me.”
“Yes, that was our thought, too,” said Mr. Fisk, after finishing his drink. “Adoption is so common these days, and with what they’re saying about how they claim to have found you, I’m sure it was no–”
“Pardon?” I gulped. “What are my parents… saying?”
“That you were adopted from the palace,” Mr. Fisk said. “That your mother thought you were the child of another servant–an unwed young lady, or something to that effect…”
That feeling of my world falling out from underneath me was back again. Did my Mom really say that I was adopted…? Like…really? I sort of knew that was the story we were going with, but for her to say it…?
“Oh dear. I presumed you would’ve known,” Mr. Fisk said, looking quite troubled. “You surely must have wondered how they found you. It’s all over the news.”
“Right, right,” I said, taking a sip of water. “I don’t get much news around here.”
“Trust me. That’s a good thing,” said Mr. Fisk. “You being found is about the only good thing going on in the galaxy right now.”
“Really?” I asked, thinking back to the protesters I saw through the window just days before, the ones Eddy tried to hide from me. “What’s happening out there?”
Mr. Fisk laughed. “It’s hardly a topic for tonight, Your Highness. I’m sure you’ll get into the nitty gritty of it all in good time… and try not to worry about the Fenns.”
“Now that is impossible,” I muttered. “They’re all I think about.”
“A friend of mine from law school is on their team,” Mr. Fisk said. “I don’t know how much it’ll help but, I presume that with all the good words you’ve said about them and the amount of character witnesses they have, that that will all speak well for them.” He reached out to put a hand on my shoulder.
“That’s the hope,” I murmured. “I just wish there was more I can do to help.”
A thought seemed to strike Mr. Fisk. “Hmm. Perhaps there is something… you’ve got your things from the house, right?”
I nodded. “Yeah, I think it’s all been released now.”
“Take a look and see if you can find any documents. If there’s an adoption certificate, birth certificate… that sort of thing. It would help quite a lot to establish precisely how the Fenns got a hold of you in the first place. Even if they didn’t know who you were, someone had to. That could be the key to clearing their names.”
A glimmer of hope ignited in me. “That’s right!” I said. “Wow. Thanks.”
Another tap on my shoulder roused me before I could thank her for her words. This time it was Eddy. She curtsied to Mr. Fisk before turning back to me.
“It’s time,” she said warmly, running her hands over my shoulders.
She meant it was time for me to speak. First, however, it was Senator Marsh again, at the podium.
“Good evening, my brothers and sisters,” Senator Marsh began. “We are so happy to celebrate our good tidings with you this evening. First, we’d like to extend the highest civilian honors possible to Mr. and Mrs. Langston Cliff, who played an integral part in reuniting Princess Lucasta with her family just a few weeks ago. Their astute observation of a young girl walking home from school who stuck out to them is an example of how small moments can lead to great service to Her Majesty’s court.”
I glanced away, awkwardly. So that was the official story, huh? Quail and Kipley just… found me on the way home from school? Guessed I was the princess, and boom…?
Well, whatever, I guess. Not the weirdest part of the story.
Marsh stopped and presented medals to the audience, then put the microphone back on the podium and then waved me over. I took it in my hand and stared awkwardly out into the crowds.
“Thank you all for being here,” I began, pausing awkwardly as my eyes darted around the room, looking for any familiar face to land on. I found Eddy not far away. “The past few weeks have been…illuminating for me. I want to thank the Cliffs for their help, and Eddy… oh Gods, I don’t know where I’d be without Eddy.”
A few chuckles emerged from the audience. I was probably not supposed to say things like Oh Gods, but it was probably less of a big deal that I said that then Quail saying what he did.
“It’s… funny for me to think about being in this world, you know? For so long I wasn’t. A few weeks ago I was the same as everybody else, and now I’ve got some pretty big shoes to fill. The room I sleep in now is actually… it’s actually my mother’s,” I paused. “I don’t remember her, so it’s kind of nice to be in that space–to have an idea of who she was. It helps me feel closer to her, and like I have a better understanding of what she would’ve wanted. I know I do have a lot to learn, but I think I would like to follow in her footsteps, if given the opportunity. I think I can really offer the Worlds something…and that I can make them proud, too. So with that said, maybe not immediately, but with your blessing and with my Aunt’s, I really would like to begin studying toward becoming Queen someday. Thank you,” I said, and held out the microphone for Marsh to take back.
Marsh stumbled awkwardly to take the microphone from me and bow at the same time, while introducing the next part of my evening. I’d almost forgotten. Next part was the grave visit.