Heart of Glass - By Sasha Gould


I gaze down the length of the narrow blade at my enemy. His own sword is lowered, his chest heaving as a bead of sweat rolls lazily over the ridge of his collarbone and then into the dip of his sternum. It joins the others in a damp patch over his heart.

“Yield,” he says.

“Make me.”

Roberto sends me a smile, then attacks. I dodge across the varnished floorboards of the palace’s gallery, but my silk skirts swing heavily, weighted by the lead beads sewn into the hem. They’re slowing me down.

“A peacock’s feathers don’t help it fly,” Roberto says, his eyes traveling over the shot turquoise of my dress. With a hiss of impatience I use my free hand to loosen the ribbons on my outer robe, shoving one shoulder and then the other out of the bodice until the silk slips over my limbs and lands with a sigh in a blue cloud at my feet. Neatly, I step out of it, my sword still trained on Roberto. I ignore the loud tut of disapproval from the servant who sits on one of the window seats, chaperoning us. When I first met Roberto six months ago, I might have blushed, but six moons have done more than just improve my sword skills. I’m a different person.

“You may leave us,” I call out. My eyes never stray from Roberto’s face.

There’s a scuffle of shoes across wood and then the slam of a door shutting.

“Now there’s no one to witness your humiliation,” I say. My voice echoes around the long gallery.

“Or yours,” Roberto replies, raising his eyebrows.

I stand before him in nothing but my linen chemise and corset. My cheeks are hot, with both the duel and my recklessness. I blow a stray lock of hair out of my face and it sticks to my temple.

Roberto slowly circles. “Are you going to use that sword or just admire it?”

I turn on the spot. Behind him shift the blurry outlines of oil paintings and—as we turn again—long windows, beyond which lies Venice. Once a prison, now my home. The days of the convent are long gone, many months ago, fading quickly into the past. My stale vows to God will always lurk in my mind, but they are nothing more than a distant chanting now, faint beneath new words of love.

Roberto dances lightly from foot to foot. One flying lunge with my sword and I’ll be the victor; a single riposte from him and I taste defeat. I notice his hand tighten slightly under his bell guard, and anticipate his move. As he lunges I hop to one side, turning my back on him and bringing my own blade round in a swift movement so that it cuts up under his. Our weapons bounce apart, but with a light jump I bring the buttoned point of my sword against Roberto’s chest, the blade bending under the pressure. We’re so close that I can feel Roberto’s breath on my face.

“Disarming,” he says. He fails to keep the surprise out of his voice.

I cannot help laughing, though we don’t pull apart. “Does this make me the winner?” I ask.

Roberto dips his head in acknowledgment. “So it seems.”

“Then I demand my prize.”

He glances back up, his eyes widening a little as he leans against my blade. “Which is?”

I jerk my sword away and he staggers into me. He straightens up, cheeks flushing. “Laura—”

Before he can say another word, I bring my sword around in a wide arc until the blunt tip slides between our bodies and presses against the underside of his chin. “I demand a kiss.”

We both wait. I lower my sword. Roberto is free to move. His arm is suddenly around my waist, bringing me even closer to him. As his chest presses against mine I am aware of the thin fabric of my chemise, the heat of his body. He leans over me, arching my spine backwards, and presses his lips against the hollow at the base of my throat, which I know must be salty with sweat. When he releases me, we gaze at each other, standing on either side of a long sunbeam that traces a path across the floorboards.

“Is this what love feels like?” he asks.

“I think so.”

We both know how lucky we are. It might have been so different, if my father had had his way. I shudder to think of the man I was to marry, one of my father’s cronies from the Grand Council. Vincenzo was old, selfish