Wednesday the First
Lunar 4, Luka 16
The Grounds of the Palace at Lumena
“Here we are… finally,” Eddy said, disembarking onto the landing platform first. My entourage of guards followed next, then finally, Portia and Duncan behind me. “Don’t worry about your things. Someone else will bring them in.”
We landed within the steep walls of the palace, some of the white, stone arches and tiered balconies of the walls visible from where we were. Unbeknownst to me from the field trips I’d taken there as a child, inside those walls was not one building but several. It was almost a small city, each of the structures inside castles in their own right, with matching white, stone arches and opulent columns supporting mosaic walls and stained-glass windows. The airstrip where we were was surrounded by elegant fountains and perfectly pruned shrubbery, lined with matching white stone lanterns, each of which were beginning to light as both suns had now set. Although it appeared from the outside that the city butted up directly against the palace, there was so much empty space and gardens separating them on the other side of the perimeter wall that we were far away enough now that we couldn’t hear any of the hustle and bustle in the city. Things were quiet, almost serene.
“This one will be yours,” Eddy said, pointing out of the larger residences up ahead. The lights were on inside. “It was Prince Lucien’s until a few years ago. We call it Cloudburst.”
If I were to wager it, I’d be willing to bet that this chunk of the palace alone could have fit ten of the house I grew up in in it with room to spare. I lost count trying to figure out how many windows there were, let alone rows of them between the second and third floor balconies above.
“Your rooms have already been prepared, and I’ve taken the liberty of requesting your dinner to your rooms for this evening. We’ll have more of a celebration tomorrow, but I figured you must be exhausted,” Eddy said to the three of us, leading our way. “It’s nothing too extravagant—just a bit spot of reigndeer leek soup.”
Portia and Duncan exchanged a glance, then looked to me. Reigndeer was one of the most expensive varieties of meat in our galaxy; none of us had ever eaten it.
“I guess we shouldn’t be afraid of putting you out,” Portia muttered, to me. “Seems you’ve got the space…”
“No shit,” I whispered, keeping my eyes forward on the literal castle in front of me.
A perturbing sight caught my eye. The stairs up to the entrance were entirely lined with corpsmen–about twelve on each side–and there were more at the top.
“Just some of your security detail,” Eddy said, completely unfazed. “Don’t you feel safer already?”
“Suuure,” I said, though the sight of all those tridents made me uncomfortable, if anything. “Any reason we need so many?”
“Oh, my dear girl. Didn’t you see all those paparazzi?” Eddy asked, shaking her head. “And then there is the matter of any sort of vagrants, crazies, political opposition, your brother…”
“My brother?” I asked, almost turning back to Duncan before I realized who she meant–Legato, or Eliseo, as she knew him.
“No one wants to repeat any of the errors of the past,” Eddy said, glancing back to me. “We lost you once, darling — don’t think anyone’s ever going to let you out of their sight ever again.”
She meant it kindly, I’m sure, but it sounded almost like a threat.
The security presence inside was more of the same, an elaborate number of uniformed men standing at every door and window, doing little more than waiting for any possible threat to appear. A few other members of the house staff greeted us once inside.
“Rooms for Miss Portia and Mister Duncan are here on the ground floor, down to your right,” Eddy said, motioning with an open hand. “The staff for that area will help you get settled.”
“What about Petra?” Portia asked.
Eddy cleared her throat. “Her Majesty will be upstairs with me,” she said, lingering over the name as if to teach Portia a lesson–a lesson I never wanted her to learn. “I’ll be back down to check on the both of you soon.”
“And I will too,” I said, giving both of them a hug before we parted ways. “Promise.”
As soon as we were headed up the stairs, Eddy was buzzing my ear about things I had coming up, events, parties, and all the people who were so excited to meet me again, and the ceremonies and tea settings and photographs I’d sit for and…everything. The information kind of wasn’t making it into my brain, because I was too busy gawking at the utter magnificence all around me. There were tapestries and portraits, priceless works of art, sculpture, and more… just, there. On the walls, the ceilings–the ceilings, Dear Lords, the ceilings…
They were higher than any I’d ever seen, and each one covered in the most elaborate art and crown molding I’d ever seen, actually depicting a story or a scene as we walked. Were my brain not entirely checked out taking the trauma train to ‘Fuck My Life’ town, it would’ve been positively enchanting, but instead it was just more stimuli, and one more thing to be overwhelmed by. I hadn’t even realized that Eddy had led me through a door and that the space we were in now was considered my area–not a room, a suite.
“And here is your foyer–well, I suppose your mother used it more like a sitting room—and look, dinner!” Eddy said, motioning to one of the tables. It was set with fine, dainty dishes and tea, as well as a simmering pot of stew. “You’ll just leave the plates once you’ve finished.”
“So this was… hers?” I asked, catching the bit about my not-mother.
Images I saw in Legato’s mind bolted through mine. Her body. Her eyes. Her dead eyes.
“Indeed it was! Before she married your father, the summer of their engagement, I believe. Ooh-hoo, how long ago that was! But dear, your things are in your bedroom for now, I believe,” Eddy said fondly. “I could have them moved if you like.”
“Oh, no. I can just move them.”
“No need to do anything like that yourself,” Eddy said. “Now, where were we? That’s right, your schedule. Tomorrow you’ll–”
“No offense, Eddy, but could I maybe have a moment?” I asked. “Today’s kind of been… a lot.”
“Oh. Right,” Eddy said, nodding. “My apologies. Do you want me to wait out here, or…?”
“Just wherever is normal I guess,” I said, not sure what else to say. “I mean, I was thinking I might take a nap or… something.”
Eddy nodded. “Of course. I’ll be nearby if you need me…but I am happy to give you space as you need it. Security will be just outside your door, of cour—”
I closed the door on her, probably more abruptly than I should or was polite. I just couldn’t take it anymore. The bed was hidden behind an ornate scarlet lace and mesh canopy, but I plopped down on it, stopping only to tear that tiara out of my hair once again, rip off my shoes and stockings, and leave Quail’s dress in a pile on the floor under the trident. The crumpled note from my kitchen and mirror from the pirates were at the top of the pile, like cherries on top of a sundae mountain of misery.
Then I just laid there, staring up at the ceiling with my legs dangling off the side of the bed for Gods know how long.
There are no words to describe the overwhelming sensation of loss and defeat that washed over me then, the anguish of all of the various intersections of my life that would never be the same again. The collapse rolled over me like waves on the beach, the kind that look tame from the surface until they pull you down into a riptide and then you’re drowning. Just a few kilometers away, the parents I’d always known–the kindest, most loving, gentle people in the Worlds, were going to sleep in a jail cell. My brother and sister’s lives were turned upside down, probably forever, and although we were back together, we’d probably never really be a family again… at least not in the same way. Both of them were about to tuck themselves into unfamiliar new beds while our childhood home was sold off to the highest bidder. We’d never see it again. And then there was me–whoever the fuck I was now. Petra. Pietro. Lucasta. Louie. A Fenn. A Princess. A liar and a fake. A family wrecking monster. Everything was ruined…all because I stabbed a guy over my stupid, fucking hair. And there was no fixing it–no taking any of it back. I tried to cry again, but the tears wouldn’t come. Sleep wouldn’t either, though I felt exhausted, uncomfortable. Everything was just so completely, incomprehensibly wrong.
A strange sound emerged from my dress on the floor. I flopped out of bed and crept toward it, wrapping myself in the black, tasseled throw blanket from the end of the bed so I wasn’t half-naked.
It was the mirror. It had started vibrating now, the glass almost shaking out of its frame. I glanced at my reflection in it.
The moment I saw my own tired, bloodshot eyes, something strange happened. There was a flash, but this time, unlike before, I didn’t get that weird feeling–not at first–instead, something fell out of it with a great thud, pinning me down. I fell to the floor beneath whatever it was, landing with a big ‘oof.’
“Why in the Worlds are you always half naked when this happens?”
My eyes flew open. “Jane?” I asked, still pinned down beneath her. She was holding herself off of me with one arm alone, otherwise on top of me entirely.
“Really. I did not plan this,” Jane said, and rolled off of me. “Nor do I ever.”
I turned the other way, a bit embarrassed, but too beat and overwhelmed to care at the same time. I wrapped myself back in the throw blanket.
“Nice place you have here, Your Highness,” Jane said. “You could–”
“Don’t call me that!” I barked, darkly.
Jane was stunned silent. “Sorry. You know I’m only joking.”
I walked back to the bed and plopped down on it again. “I’m sorry,” I whispered. “It’s been a…a rough couple of hours.”
“You wanna talk about it?” Jane asked, hands out on her hips. “I just came to check on you. No other reason.”
I glanced away. “I don’t even know what to say. And besides, I’m… mad at you.”
“Figured you might be,” Jane said, and sighed. “Look, I’m sorry. If there was any way I could take this away from you, I would.”
I motioned for her to sit down beside me. “The least you could’ve done was brought Moose, and some chocolate.”
“Noted,” Jane said. She sat down beside me, her whole face changing. “Oh, now this bed is next level. Holy shit.”
I grimaced. “Why yes. It apparently belonged to my dead not-mom, the Former Queen.”
Jane seemed perturbed, too, raising her hands off of it.
I’d never been particularly superstitious before, but now seemed like a great time to start, what with the whole impersonating a dead person thing while now living in the bedroom of a woman I saw being murdered in her son’s memories.
“So yeah. Great bed. Super comfortable,” I muttered, tapping my fingers over the comforter. “There’s a zero percent chance I’m ever sleeping in here. Ever.”
“I can bring you your pillow and stuff,” Jane murmured. “I know it’s important to you.”
Her offer was tempting, but I almost didn’t want to expose that last shred of my old life to this place. “Nah. Keep an eye on it for me?”
The two of us just sat there about a foot apart, not touching, nor anywhere close. I slid over a bit closer first and slowly leaned on her side, resting my head in the crook of her shoulder and neck. She adjusted to make it more comfortable for the both of us, and using her free hand, rubbed tiny, comforting circles in my upper arm and shoulder. She played with my hair, softly curling it around her fingers. Even though it was still just wig fibers, it felt good. Natural. Nice. My breathing began to slow, and although I still felt like the world was ending, a sense of peace set in.
In my head I was playing back over how shitty I was that day when I saw everyone, how I’d punched Legato in the face. The things I said to Quail. To Jane. I’ve never been that angry before in my life. Deep down, that anger was still there, only dormant now. I wasn’t embarrassed about most of it; it was justified. The only one I felt a little bad for was Jane. The others could go fuck themselves.
“I wanted to tell you. I did.” Jane’s voice was low and dear. She leaned her head against mine. “I figured the Boss should be the one to tell you about his garbage, not me.”
My eyes filled with tears once again. “How can you stand by him? Knowing everything?”
“He’s all I have, Pietro. You know that.”
If it were me, I would have rather had nothing. “Has he ever shown you…?”
“No. And I don’t want to know. I don’t need to.”
“So you’re just okay with–?”
“I’m not, but I can’t change what happened. Neither can he,” Jane paused, gazing somewhere very far away. I put my hand down over hers, to show her I still cared. “It was sixteen years ago, Pietro–as long as we’ve been alive. He was only our age when it happened.”
What was she trying to say, that he changed? That he somehow got over murdering half his family, for whatever reason? That he was better now?
“You know people change. You’ve seen it in yourself. You’re not who you were a month ago. Why should he be who he was then?”
Sure I was changing, but a month ago I hadn’t killed anyone–and I still hadn’t killed anyone, or planned to. There were limits. There had to be. And even if Legato did change, that still didn’t bring any of the dead back.
“You don’t get it, Jane. What I saw was…” I shook my head, feeling a touch of that horrible rage rising in me at the mere thought of it, of that woman. “I don’t think I can ever trust him again.”
“Then don’t. But don’t throw away everything else you’ve seen with your eyes because of him. This is still a good fight to fight.”
“I know. I just…” I heaved a sigh, and turned so I was facing her head on. She mirrored me. “You have to promise to tell me everything from now on, okay? No more… ‘in good time’ or any crap like that. Just tell me, okay?”
Jane took a second to think about what I asked, seeming to consider her choice quite seriously. “Like… a hundred percent honesty, always?”
Was that such a big ask? I couldn’t deal with being blindsided again like this. There was so much at stake now, and so much already hanging in the balance. If we were going to stay close, if we were going to keep holding each other like this on hard days, I needed her to be real with me–really real to me.
“I mean, it would be nice if someone was,” I muttered.
“Fair point.” Jane gave a tentative nod. “Might take some adjusting to. I’ve never really… had that.”
I furrowed a brow. “You’ve never been completely open with someone? No one?”
“Did we forget the part where I was raised on a pirate ship, or…?”
Point taken. I reached out to give her a hug, and she wrapped her arms around me. I snuggled a bit closer to her, feeling some of the tension in me melt away. “Promise?”
“Yeah. I promise.”
That alone made everything somehow hurt a bit less, feel more doable. There was still so much overwhelming heartache and sorrow that I could barely stand the idea of having to go on, but having Jane…? Being held like this…? I was starting to feel like I lived in my body again, not just as some blob of sadness floating out in space. Maybe I really could make it another day. Maybe. Maybe the suns would shine again.
“I should probably head back,” Jane whispered, pulling away from me. “You should get some rest. I–”
I pulled her back by her wrist. “I don’t mind if you stay. Really. I don’t.”
A nervous chuckle escaped Jane, her eyes fixing on mine. She brought her face back close to mine, gazing right in my eyes, and down at my lips in a way that only meant one thing.
“And what if someone were to come in here, hm? Might be compromising,” she said, reaching back out to cup my cheek with one hand. My heart fluttered. “I don’t even want to know what the infractions are for getting caught in bed with the Crown Princess.”
I wanted to tell her that I didn’t care how it looked, or what anyone said, that I wanted her to stay with me, for me, but the words wouldn’t come. I knew I already asked for more than I meant to, the way her body language suddenly shifted and our eyes were locked, like she was waiting for some kind of signal to gauge exactly what to do next. Kiss her, my brain screamed at me. Just kiss her already. And I wanted to. More than anything I wanted to, and I didn’t realize until right then that maybe I had wanted to kiss her for a while, but there was something deep down inside of me that screamed: not now, not like this, not on the worst day of your life, not just to make yourself feel better. She deserves more. You do, too.
So I chickened out and scooted away, out of her reach.
“Oh yeah. Y-you’re right,” I said, reaching up to scratch my head. “Haha. My bad. It was, uh… nice of you to check on me.”
Jane scurried to the other end of the bed herself, looking worried, perhaps hurt. “You’re good. I uhm… I gotta be up bright and early myself. Yeah. We got another lead on the trafficking situation, so we’re gonna head to Lacuna tomorrow.”
“Right. Yeah. Lacuna.” My heart was beating out of my chest all of the sudden. I didn’t hear a word she said, preoccupied by just…staring at her. Her face. Why did she look so sad?
Damn. Why didn’t I just kiss her? Or say something?
Jane got up and took a few awkward steps away from me and my bed, until she was standing at somewhat of an unnatural distance. She turned back around slowly, awkwardly. “I forgot to say–first, everyone’s real sorry, and second…” she paused, blinking repeatedly, like she forgot whatever it was she was supposed to say. I’d never seen her so rattled. “Right–your infractions. Your infractions were purged.”
“P-purged?” I shot up straight.
“Yeah. The boss was gonna pay the last of it off but, uhm… there’s no record now of anything ever happening, and all your records are sealed.” Jane was bumbling with the mirror in her hands, like she couldn’t get it on and get out of there fast enough. “So that’s good news, right? You’re in the clear.”
“Do you need me to… throw that at you?” I asked, remembering what Kipley had done to me. Maybe it wasn’t the best thing to say given the circumstances.
Jane shook her head. “No. You’re good. I’m good. Everything’s… good.”
She disappeared in a flash of light the moment she glanced at her own reflection, leaving the mirror to drop on the floor.
There we were, lying to each other already.
The moment she was gone I flopped over, burying my face in one of the decorative pillows at the hood of my bed. I squealed into one of them, releasing a high-pitched noise, clutching both sides of it with my fists.