"... and so I've decided to marry your sister off."
Lorenzo's jaw hung slack in amazement. His father had been threatening for his entire life to depose him as the heir to throne of their fair kingdom of Sessaly, though usually in jest or in anger. Lorenzo had never once suspected any truth behind it, and now, not only was he being deposed but Tatianna was being married off
to some foreign clown who would take his place!
Tati had been despondent for days, having locked herself away in her room since she heard the news, refusing food, water, or even to speak to anyone. She had even refused Lorenzo, which was exceedingly rare, for the two were very close and it was almost always Lorenzo who could get her to open up and, after divulging her troubles, crack a smile. He'd been terribly worried about his little sister and was appalled that this news had been kept from him and the new husband and his family were to arrive today!
"Dammit, Father, you-- you can't do
am the rightful heir to Sessaly and--"
"And blind," King Jeffrey interjected coldly, "and a bachelor to boot. You're twenty-five
, Lorenzo, with nary a woman in sight, and... oh, my boy, you can't even read
Lorenzo's lips pressed together in fury. He found himself unable to speak lest he say something foolish, but his heart brimmed over with rage. True, he could not read as such
since he could not see the words printed on the page, but that spoke little of his actual intelligence! People had misjudged and underestimated and mocked and derided him his entire life, even his father, but to use this as an excuse to depose him--!
"Some of the, er... council... think that... well, they suppose the accident might've affected your cognition, son. The court sees you flitting about, attending parties and charming everyone, but scarcely a serious thought ever crosses your lips--"
"Why shouldn't I be merry?" Lorenzo insisted. "Why should I spend my days with my head down and--"
"Which is precisely
why I have decided to let Tatianna take over. She is quiet, studious, serious... and she can read
," which was as good as saying 'She's not blind like you,' "and what's more, there is no question of her reproductive ability, either."
"What--! Who-- Father you can't
be serious--" Lorenzo spluttered, his cheeks turning bright red, "who has questioned my... my reproductive
-- of all the ridiculous--"
"Well..." the King began uncomfortably, "to be honest, Lorenzo, most men your age are married, and those that aren't have already sired a passel of bastards amongst the whores and the milkmaids in town... so you see...."
"NO!" Lorenzo cried, now shaking with impotent rage, "As you are so kind to remind me nearly every day of my life, Father
, I don't see."
King Jeffrey felt ashamed, but did not budge. Between himself, his advisors, and his wife, it had already long ago been decided that Lorenzo should not inherit the throne. And it wasn't until Tatianna's new husband was confirmed that he could inform his son. And they hadn't had confirmation until that morning, via runner that came ahead of the royal procession.
"Well, our new family arrives today, in a few hours no less, so you had best be ready," the King said wearily. He wanted to comfort his son, to offer some sage advice that would help mollify the young man, but Lorenzo had already turned and begun stalking away toward to door, his anger almost palpable as a black cloud above his head.
"Bartholomew," Lorenzo snapped. His manservant was trailing after him dutifully, and he felt very sorry for Lorenzo, and thought that the King was making a terrible mistake. As the Prince's manservant, he knew that Lorenzo was quite capable and, beneath his playful exterior, was as serious and dutiful as his sister- perhaps even moreso- and would have made a very fine, just ruler.
"Yes, m'lord?" Bartholomew quickened his pace and opened the door for his master.
"Would you be so kind as to fetch Micah from the stables? I should like to spar a bit before getting dressed."
"Of course, m'lord," Bartholomew said with a bow, and he hurried off to fetch Micah. Micah was one of the finest fighters in the kingdom, famed for his innate skill at wrestling and grappling. Of course, Lorenzo could never hope to beat him, but as a Prince and as a blind person felt it was in his best interests to know how to fight and to practice, and he'd found, over the years, that it was a terrific way to vent the frustrations of his oppressive royal life.
They met in a small, seldom-used courtyard off the east wing of the castle. Lorenzo knew the path well, but his fingers trailed along the familiar stone walls anyway, just to be sure, since he didn't have his cane. He arrived at the courtyard ahead of Micah and stripped off his shirt and trousers and shoes and stockings and took off the small round black spectacles that hid his mutilated eyes and was left in nothing but his plain white breeches. He began grappling with the air to warm himself up, too furious with his father to wait any longer.
"Alrigh', Lorenzo?" Micah called, grinning broadly as he saw the tall, dark man sparring with shadows. The stable boy was honored to be of service to his Prince in such a capacity and Lorenzo had insisted on being on a first-name basis with one another. It somehow made the playing field more level; Lorenzo never
wanted Micah to let him win and had thought that if the boy called him "Lorenzo" instead of "Your Highness" or some such nonsense he would be more likely to put up a decent fight. It had worked. Lorenzo had never won, but Micah had taught him much, and now the blind prince was a fair enough fighter to at least give the young bull a run for his money.
They wrestled for nearly an hour in the quiet courtyard, with Bartholomew the only spectator. All was silent except for the gentle scraping of bare feet against the cobblestones and the occasional grunt or slapping of palms against flesh. Lorenzo was so angry he very nearly beat Micah that day, but ultimately the young man bested his Prince by virtue of his sight and skill. He wrestled Lorenzo to the ground and finally pinned him to the count of three. Lorenzo stopped struggling and finally felt easy enough to grin as Micah helped him to his feet. Both young men were bathed in sweat and breathless but the match seemed to have done the trick.
"Good game, lad," Lorenzo said, slapping Micah jovially on the shoulder. Micah laughed a little and shrugged, unwilling to admit how close Lorenzo had come to beating him and unaware that Lorenzo knew. "I thank you kindly for coming up here on such short notice. I am having... er... difficulties
with my Father, and I need to be, er... on my good behavior
for a, er... diplomatic meeting this afternoon."
"Alrigh'," Micah said again, laughing in bewilderment. He had no idea what Lorenzo meant, but the Prince looked considerably calmer than he had before, so Micah understood that his job was done. "Usual time tomorrow, then?"
"Aye," Lorenzo agreed. "Until then." He waved, and headed off in the direction of his own chambers to prepare to meet Tatianna's new husband.
Tatianna had been roundly scolded by her mother that morning for her childish behavior. As a woman of twenty, she had no business
locking herself up in her room and hiding from the world like that. But Tati was more than stricken over being married off to some goon from another kingdom; she had a love of her own and the thought of marrying anyone else made her heart shrink in terror and grief. But her mother had coaxed and goaded her out of the room, bathed her, and gotten her dressed, though she still refused to eat.
Tatianna was uncommonly lovely, with long, flaxen hair, enormous brown eyes, and a cherubic little mouth perfectly suited to simpering and kissing (but more often than not pressed into a hard, uncompromising little line). She was quite short and already very slender at the waist with strangely wide hips and bust. But today, even her best-fitted dress hung a bit loose over her body and she was too dejected to stand straight. The usual serious beauty of her face was clouded with sadness and her brow was low, her skin pale and almost grey as she waited in the throne room to receive her new husband.
Lorenzo knew that he was the polar opposite of Tati in nearly every way. Where she was short and frail, he was uncommonly tall and broad-shouldered and, given his penchant for physical activity, quite strong. She was serious, studious and quiet; Lorenzo was jovial and given to frivolity. Tati preferred to dress in modest, muted clothes, while Lorenzo left it to Bartholomew to help him dress as flamboyantly as possible. Where Tati was blonde and fair, Lorenzo was dark; he had shoulder-length black hair, his complexion tended swarthy, and before the accident all those years ago his eyes had been sparkling and black.
Now his eyes were scarred over with strange masses of corded scar tissue. He had been (rather unkindly) advised by his father to don the dark glasses, since some found Lorenzo's deformity off-putting. Lorenzo supposed he could understand. At first he had resented the glasses, but Bartholomew had informed him, and quite correctly, that they lent Lorenzo an air of mystery and eccentricity which was quite befitting of his gregarious personality, and now, dressed all in black, so tall, with his black hair and black glasses and black cane and fine white gloves, Lorenzo did indeed cut an intimidating and impressive figure.
Lorenzo strode in to the throne room, now clean and resplendent in his favorite black brocade, embroidered all over with delicate gold leaves. He'd never seen the outfit himself, but he had been told by Bartholomew that it was a formidably ostentatious look. And though he could not see himself now, Lorenzo certainly felt formidable, as he took his place beside the throne and put his hand on Tati's shoulder. Her small, cold hand rested gently over his, and he could feel her trembling terribly. Lorenzo wanted to take her in his arms and give her shelter and solace and hear her troubles, but now was not the time, for the new family, whose name they did not yet even know, were being shown in.
Queen Merriwether wore a gown so voluminous and lacy and pale pink that she resembled a walking cake. Her complexion was fair like Tati's and her figure was rather plump and comfortable, squeezed by a corset into an appealing hourglass shape. And it was she who came forward as the two young men and their entourage entered the throne room.
"Welcome!" she cried, throwing her arms open, "My dear boys, welcome
to our fair Kingdom of Sessaly! Do
come in!" She embraced both of the young men in turn, first Richard, then Daniel, clutching them tenderly to her ample bosom. Then she turned, with one hand lightly touching Daniel's shoulder, and swept her arm back toward where Lorenzo and Tati stood together, and where Jeffrey sat on the grand-looking, bejeweled throne. King Jeffrey smiled welcomingly at the young men, but could not help feeling a secretly guilty at seeing his daughter look so dejected. And she did. Tatianna, who usually put on exemplary manners at court, simply stared at the two newcomers with hollow eyes and a solemn mouth.
"May I present my daughter, Tatianna, my son, Lorenzo, and my husband, King Jeffrey," the Queen cooed. Lorenzo waved and forced himself to smile brightly enough for himself and for his sister, for though he could not see her he knew well enough that she could not smile just now. He gave her shoulder a squeeze, then, with his cane tucked under one arm, he stepped forward in the direction of his mother's voice and put out a hand to greet the newcomers.
"Tis a pleasure to meet you, my new brothers!" he cried, coming to embrace them as well, first Richard, then Daniel. Then Lorenzo paused with his rather large hand on Daniel's shoulder, his brows knitting in momentary confusion. "Now-- which of you is it marrying my beautiful little sister?"