Once upon a time, there was a kingdom called New York. The King and Queen, Dominick Carisi and Maria Carisi, had four children: Theresa, Gina, Sonny, and Bella. Although the laws said that the oldest should have the throne, which seemed only fair, King Dominick was concerned, for Princess Theresa was greedy, and Princess Gina insisted on breaking the heart of every young man in the kingdom, while neither showed the least sign of mending their behavior any time in the future. Only Prince Sonny and Princess Bella were kind and loving, and Prince Sonny had gone to two fine schools in the kingdom and was well educated, aside from being a warrior with deadly aim. While Theresa most likely should have been Queen following her father’s death, the unpopularity of the two older princesses caused King Dominick and Queen Maria to meet with their council of ministers.
“Bella is loved by everyone,” said Father Elliot, representing the Church.
“True,” Lady Benson, the Chancellor, replied, “but if she were to reign alone, you know that her husband Sir Thomas has been a problem for us. Can we have a ruler whose husband has a criminal record? Or whose other trials with our justice system have been held out for public inspection?”
“Children love Prince Sonny,” Lady Amanda Rollins volunteered. “And he loves them. I don’t think there’s anyone who doesn’t love Sonny.”
“Anyone?” muttered Lord Justice Rafael Barba, head of the courts. “He’s a pain. You haven’t given Sir Thomas a noble title, much less a royal one, because of his difficulties. Sonny supported his sister and Sir Thomas loyally, I admit, but – having to put up with him? Am I the only one who remembers? And really – please!”
General Sir “Fin” Tutuola, head of the kingdom’s military, shook his head. “He’s a fine warrior, though, and has made his mark in the field. Aside from you, Lord Justice Barba, and possibly a few mothers whose babies he may have neglected to kiss by accident, he has everyone’s respect.” The general was of the distinct opinion that the other man’s hostility toward the favorite child of their rulers was a deliberate falsehood. The eyes of the best-dressed man in the kingdom were almost always trained upon the King’s handsome only son, and it was unlikely that he was awaiting a misstep by the prince in order to find a reason to have him brought to the courts.
All eyes turned to the man who was either the wisest or the most foolish of all, the truly elder John, Duke of Munch. “Well,” Lady Benson asked him, “what do you think?”
“I think it’s very simple,” the Duke pronounced. “Theresa is too greedy to marry soon, and she will never marry happily. And she would never agree to share the kingdom with anyone. Gina will never marry, or not for a very long time. She is not serious. Bella is married, though Sir Thomas is an issue. Sonny is scholar and a fighter. He may have a sense of humor, but underneath that, to be those things, he must be a serious man. He also, as has been said, loves children. And Bella has learned, since Sir Thomas’s difficulties, to listen to his advice. It is highly unlikely that Sonny will not marry at some point. A serious man wants a serious relationship. I think that we should change the law to permit two of the children to rule, provided that they are both happily married. If either Theresa or Gina would wed simply to become Queen of New York, there is no conceivable way that their marriages would be happy. In fact, there is no way that any marriage either contracts is likely to be happy. And the kingdom needs its rulers to be role models of some sort. Two happily married royals would give that to the people.”
Lord Justice Barba groaned. “One happily married to a criminal, and Prince Sonny – what on earth will he marry?”
Lady Amanda peered at the head of the courts. “I believe he’ll marry the right person for him, and that together they’ll be wonderful.” She was the youngest by far of the council, knew Prince Sonny well, and had her own opinion of matters. Like the general, she was not blind to the Lord Justice’s gaze, but unlike the general, she had also listened to the prince a few times regarding a certain extraordinarily handsome chief justice whose wardrobe was the talk of the entire kingdom.
“You’re a fucking optimist,” said the Lord Justice, groaning. “Is there any more coffee? I’m going to need it.”
Queen Maria sighed as a uniformed servant brought Lord Justice Barba his third coffee of the meeting. “Well, we can’t appear to be singling out Sonny to be married. We’ll tell the three who aren’t married that the first one of them to be married happily will share the throne with Bella when it’s time for them to rule. Change the law, and I’ll see what we can do to find someone for Sonny while Theresa and Gina don’t feel left out.”
* * *
Queen Maria consulted all of the standard texts on marrying off royal children. She read “Cinderella.” She glanced over “Snow White,” but she shuddered at the dwarves. She read tales of King Arthur’s court. The Brothers Grimm were reviewed, and several Disney movies were watched far too many times. The task was clear: one needed a series of balls and a series of tournaments.
The news of the first tournament spread around the kingdom like wildfire. The winners of various combats would all be honored at the first ball, which would give a pool of superior applicants at the ball as well as the usual would-be suitors for royal hands. It would add some better candidates to the richer ones who would be Theresa’s usual choices for disaster.
On the day of the tournament, the King and Queen and their ministers, from Lady Benson to the Duke of Munch, took their seats in the royal box, as did Theresa, Gina, and Bella. Sir Thomas had felt compelled to enter, simply to make a showing for the family, and did win one bout, though on his second round he was summarily unseated. Prince Sonny, on the other hand, had entered into the contest with great enthusiasm, wearing a token provided by Lady Benson – and loudly promoted as having come from Lady Benson, so that no one would think he might be taken, and he then proceeded to win every competition he entered.
“He’s so good at it,” Lady Benson sighed.
“And he looks good doing it,” added Lady Amanda Rollins, sighing as Prince Sonny removed his helmet, blond hair glinting in sunlight.
“He’s going at the front of the army next time,” General Sir Fin announced.
“So he’s not a total loser,” agreed Lord Justice Barba.
After the tournament, and before the celebratory feast, Sir Sonny looked for Lady Benson to return her handkerchief with her son Noah’s name embroidered into its corner. He found her deeply in conversation with Lady Amanda.
“You were brilliant,” Lady Amanda sighed.
“You’ve never fought so well in tournament,” Lady Benson agreed. “If you’d been in two more competitions, you’d have won the tournament yourself.”
Prince Sonny, handing his helmet to a page, chuckled. “That’s why I didn’t enter two more competitions,” he told the women. “Theresa and Gina ain’t marrying me, are they?”
“Not happily, that’s for sure,” Lady Benson laughed.
“Was Lord Justice Barba here? Did he see me?” Prince Sonny looked worried. As he had studied law himself at one of the finer schools of the kingdom, though not as great a school as the one for Lord Justice Barba had left the kingdom in order to study, it was no secret that he greatly admired the Lord Justice who perpetually insulted his capabilities.
“Why, yes,” Lady Amanda told him, smiling, “and he was almost impressed. Almost.”
“Well,” Prince Sonny mused, “that’s something, anyway.”
* * *
King Dominick felt that strength and looking good at formal parties were not sufficient choices for mates for his children. Intelligence was definitely required, especially for any man who would walk into Princess Theresa’s clutches. And what could be a better way to find his children intelligent possibilities than a three-day chess tournament? Knowledge, strategic ability, quick thinking, patience – all were tested by chess.
And to be the referee at such a tournament, no one in the kingdom was better equipped than its finest thinker and non-military strategist, a fine chess player himself – Lord Justice Barba. Barba, though outwardly groaning – his normal state of being – was secretly pleased, as nothing would be more amusing than to watch hordes of would-be intellects hoping for Princess Theresa’s hand to embarrass themselves within their first three moves. Or to watch some simpering girl who’d read a book about chess once try to impress him sufficiently to be introduced to the prince. If truth were to be told, and Barba hated to tell it, Prince Sonny wasn’t altogether a fool, just as he wasn’t altogether hapless with a weapon. He also wasn’t altogether unpleasing to look upon, though the women, like Lady Amanda, who swooned every time Prince Sonny’s hair glinted in the sun like molten gold were really appallingly silly. Lord Justice Barba was very nearly above even noticing such a thing, let alone Prince Sonny’s tall, slender, yet surprisingly strong build. Or the way his face lit up like a thousand suns when children came running over to him, as they always did. Lord Justice Barba had far too many more important things to consider.
Like humiliating over ninety percent of the men, women, and all things in between and outside those two poles that would take a shot at the chess tournament.
Prince Sonny had taken up chess in school, and had played on a school team. He still occasionally played a match with Princess Bella, his favorite sister, or her much-maligned husband, Sir Thomas. He read the occasional book about chess, and sometimes worked out the chess puzzles in the kingdom’s newspapers – it was rumored that Lord Justice Barba occasionally contributed a puzzle or two. He and Princess Bella decided that it would be fun for them to enter themselves in the tournament, no matter how poorly they did, for those who came to see the tournament would certainly be pleased to see two of the royals taking up the chess pieces and amusing them. To do badly would amuse the public greatly, at no real expense to either of their reputations, while doing well would only enhance them, and Bella could use some good press.
Princess Bella made it to the end of the first day, congratulated, not even grudgingly, by Lord Justice Barba, who had recognized and appreciated that she’d done it purely for fun, along with a number of school children who had entered. Seeing royals playing chess encouraged the sport, and so her efforts were pleasing. He was surprised to see that Prince Sonny had progressed in the rankings and was going into the second day. For Prince Sonny to understand strategy was no real surprise, for he was said to be good in battle, but more than pure strategy was needed to progress in a tournament.
He watched Prince Sonny on the second day. Opening with a King’s Gambit was no new idea, but determining how to open further to pursue Black was always a question. Black moved into a Cunningham defense; the prince moved ahead, thoughtful, with rock-steady patience and what were clearly nerves of steel.
Queen-side castling? That was interesting, and while it was a perfectly within-the-rules move, it was slightly exotic and outside of most of the books; anyone who did that at the tournament had done it before. Prince Sonny succeeded in beating this opponent as well, and was, once again, up in the rankings.
“We’ll need a fourth day!” King Dominick observed. “Splendid, Barba. Splendid. Now, this is entertainment. Frankly, the smartest and most strategic of them should know to flee Theresa like the plague. But perhaps one of the players may interest Sonny. He appreciates brains for what they are, just like he admires your legal work. That red-haired young woman over at the fifth table – now, she shows real skill. So does Dame Rita Calhoun.”
Barba shuddered. Dame Rita Calhoun would let murderers and rapists free on the streets of the kingdom if he were unable to find ways to rule against her and her clients. There was no way that Dame Rita should be allowed within a mile of the prince. Rather than say so, however, he merely inclined his head towards the King.
“Of course,” the King continued, “I’m surprised to see Sir Michael Cutter doing quite so well there, but I suppose he’d be more interested in Sonny than in Theresa or Gina. He’s not a fool, he’s not all that bad- looking; if Sonny were interested, he could do worse.”
Against his own will, Barba raised an eyebrow. “If the prince were interested – hasn’t the list been top-heavy with men more inclined to prefer the Princesses? Perhaps the Queen needs to reconsider the guest lists for the upcoming ball?”
The king shrugged. “With Sonny, I never know. Really, he just wants to be loved. If I thought he’d meet someone – anyone – suitable who cared for him and would do something about it before Theresa or Gina goes off head-first into an inadvisable and probably scandalous marriage, I’d have tried to find another solution. The tournaments are for Theresa and Gina – Gina seems to like the strong, stupid type for months at a time before she trades them in for the next ones, you know. Sonny? Seriously, Rafael, if Rita Calhoun weren’t a bit awful personally, she’d do well for him; he loves brains. Sir Michael, on the other hand, may be as close to being like you as Sonny can get.”
“I beg your pardon, Your Majesty?”
King Dominick chuckled at his bemused Lord Justice. “Really, Rafael, are you deliberately being obtuse? He worships you. You’re why he went to law school. He wants to be as much like you as possible.”
Lord Justice Barba tried hard not to react. “Come now, Your Majesty, Prince Sonny is nothing like me. I’m not a military man, and I’m not precisely a charitable volunteer worker who makes children balloon toys to brighten their days.”
“Oh, Rafael, you’re considerably better than you think you are. Remember, I know your mother. She was my father’s Minister of Education, after all. I’ve heard all the stories about you being nice that you don’t want anyone to hear. Even the one about your supporting that girl whose mother died during a trial and putting her through school.”
“Your Majesty –“
“No one’s listening, Rafael. My name’s Dominick and you know it. And by the time these events are over, my son’s going to be marrying somebody or other, so you really don’t think it might as well be you?”
“Me?” It was nearly a soprano squeak.
“If you’d just get over yourself, you’d have asked me if you could ask him out ages ago. Your age difference, which knowing you, you’re worried about, isn’t really an issue. Bella has two children already so there’s no problem with the dynasty. I’m tired of hearing about your humble background – you and your mother have done well for yourselves, and with good reason; you’ve both distinguished yourselves at court and you’ve both been amply rewarded for your excellent work. I clearly don’t expect anyone marrying my children to have as much money as I do – who has more money than the king? I’m not a psychic, but every one of my other ministers and I know your entire routine about Sonny is to avoid admitting how you feel about him. The point of this entire exercise is to wind up with at least one of my single children, most likely and preferably Sonny, happily married, and God damn it Rafael – whoops, is Father Elliot around? I hope he didn’t hear me curse – what makes him happy is you.”
* * *
“I didn’t know you could play chess so well,” Lady Amanda told Prince Sonny the next morning, as the Lord Justice called for a fourth day for the chess tournament. “You’re really doing great.”
“I was ranked back in college,” he explained as he wolfed down his breakfast. Lady Amanda swirled her orange juice around in her glass while he looked over a transcript of moves from one of the matches the day before. He’d be playing the winner from that match in two hours. “I never made much of it, but I like it. It’s challenging.”
“You could win, you know?” Lady Amanda took a deep breath. “It would be awful to lose deliberately, but given why all of this is going on, could you afford to win? We all know this is supposed to lead to your family picking up likely marriage candidates. You certainly don’t want to marry your own sisters!”
The prince shuddered. “I wouldn’t want to marry ‘em if they weren’t my sisters, either. I don’t see why anyone would. I guess that’s why we’re creating the dating pool.”
Lady Amanda drew her chair closer to his. “Look, I was part of all this. I’m one of your parents’ advisors. And I have to admit, I’m sort of sorry about this plan. You’re under as much pressure as your sisters. Maybe more. Seriously, is there anyone in any of these competitions, or at the dances, you’d really want to marry?”
He shrugged. “Not really. If I got pushed… well, nobody from the fighting. I may be good at it but I’m not looking for someone else who is.”
“What are you looking for? I mean, really?”
Prince Sonny looked at his friend, his face scrunched in thought. “I… well, someone smart. I like brains. They’re… well, brains are sexy. Smart. Good-looking, I guess, because, you know, you’re gonna eat breakfast looking at them every day for the rest of your life. Somebody who, you know, thinks. Who likes art, or books, or music, or… hell, chess. You know, who has real interests. But, you know, somebody who’s a good person. I don’t mean a saint, but they’ve got to have some kind of integrity.”
“Dark hair? Green eyes? Brooding expression? Gets up every morning trying to right all the wrongs in the kingdom? Can’t handle it when he doesn’t? Expresses frustration through a vicious sense of humor? Dresses like a supermodel?” She twirled a strand of her long blonde hair. “A certain chief justice we both know?”
He stood up. “Amanda!”
“Come on, Sonny. You don’t just admire Rafael Barba. You’d do anything for him. So marry him already and live happily ever after.”
“Oh yes, you can. Especially if you win. For God’s sakes, grow a pair, all right?”
* * *
It was the fourth day of the chess tournament. Prince Sonny was playing Sir Michael Cutter, while Dame Rita was struggling against the famous doctor George Huang. The winners of the two matches would play each other for the championship.
Lord Justice Barba was following each match closely, making notes furiously. “Pawn on sixth rank, king behind?” he muttered to Lady Benson, who couldn’t follow without peering at boards. “ Shit, this is a classic rook end game. I had no idea Sonny knew that one. He’s got Cutter cold.”
“Check,” Prince Sonny said quietly. Cutter looked at him and knocked his king down with a finger, conceding the match. They shook hands, and both rose and headed for towels and water. The intensity of a chess match of this type was indeed as draining as other more physical sports.
Shortly thereafter, Huang defeated Dame Rita. The final match would be Prince Sonny against Doctor Huang.
There were a few hours of down time; the prince showered, ate lunch, took a nap, and spent some time studying Huang’s match against Dame Rita. His sister Theresa was reported, according to Lady Amanda, to be inquiring into Huang’s net worth, which caused both the prince and Lady Amanda to howl in furious mirth, since Huang would be playing against the royal he was most interested in meeting. Apparently Princess Theresa Carisi was the only person in the kingdom who had missed the information.
Huang drew white for the match, and moved first, Barba leaning against a column nearby and again noting the match. “Ruy Lopez opening? Lets Black go after that bishop, but it’s usually a white win or a draw…” He was silent for a while, watching the two men play, beginning to perspire himself. “A Berlin wall? It got a draw against Kasparov… if he’s really aiming to win, why not a Cordel gambit?” He watched quietly a bit longer. Lady Benson could hear him mutter again, “Oh, a Mortimer trap. Huang’s going to go for that pawn, fool…” Indeed, Huang, a more than competent player, was unable to avoid the bait. It was still almost impossible for Black to win on the Ruy Lopez opening, unless Black was far superior to the White player. The prince appeared to be forcing a draw.
Thirty minutes later, the Lord Justice called the draw. The audience murmured, unsettled; they’d hoped for a clear winner and a resounding triumph, but chess was not football. Lord Justice Barba settled down for a few minutes with the match scores and began calculating. He handed the results to the King.
“The winner of the tournament, by one point,” King Dominick announced loudly, “is Prince Sonny Carisi.” The audience went wild; though Huang was a well-liked man in the kingdom, Prince Sonny’s popularity was unrivaled.
The prince came up as if to receive the prize, but as his father handed him the trophy, he raised a hand. “No. The purpose of this tournament, which I admit I entered for amusement, was to accomplish another end entirely. I would like to turn this win over to Dr. Huang, in return for one favor from my father.”
The king, and the rest of those present, with the possible exception of Lady Amanda Rollins, looked shocked. “And what is that, my son?”
“A match against Lord Justice Barba next week, purely for the challenge.”
The audience roared approval while Huang admired the chess trophy that Barba had personally selected. King Dominick looked especially pleased. The Lord Justice looked especially dyspeptic. Lady Amanda, off in a corner, smirked at Lady Benson.
* * *
It was a slow news week for the chess match between Prince Sonny and Lord Justice Barba to be serious news. Perhaps it was because the exhibition game between the prince’s beloved Mets and the Yankees had been rained out. This might be a fairy tale kingdom, but it was the fairy tale kingdom of New York, and such things mattered to its residents. Only a few didn’t care at all. On the record, the Lord Justice couldn’t have cared less, although having been raised in the Bronx, he would in secret admit a certain loyalty to the Yankees. He was not particularly a baseball fan, but despite living in the Royal Borough of Manhattan, he still had certain emotional ties to his former home.
Emotions were a thing that the Lord Justice played hard at not having. Displaying them was beneath him, and acknowledging them even to himself was a thing of great difficulty. It was his business to have a cool head, to reserve his passion for the law that he was sworn to uphold. That he did so fiercely, no one could dispute, especially after he had once taken on Sir Alex Munoz, and after he had hounded out corruption within the King’s police ranks, for which the King had rewarded him heavily after General Tutuola and his men, with Lady Benson, had put down the remaining miscreants who had threatened the Lord Justice’s life.
King Dominick would have been happy to reward Lord Justice Barba even more heavily, but, as he’d said to Queen Maria at the time, “you can’t give your child’s hand and half the kingdom to someone who’s pretending like mad that it’s absolutely what they want least in their entire life.”
(“Maybe he’s really not interested?” Queen Maria had suggested. “Oh, he’s interested,” the King had told her. “He’s just too damned stubborn to admit it. I don’t see why he’s determined to make both of them miserable. Why would I possibly object to having one of my children marry one of the wisest and most eligible men in the kingdom?” “Have you told him that?” the Queen asked. “I keep trying,” said the King. But that had been well over two years before all of these things now related came to pass.)
Barba was with the King and Queen two nights before the match, having drinks after dinner with them and with Lady Benson. The meal had been quite splendid, though none of the royal children had been present – Princess Bella was with her own family; Prince Sonny was reading stories to a group of poor children, as he did nearly every week, while feeding them sandwiches he had helped the royal chefs make earlier in the day. Princesses Gina and Theresa were worrying their dressmakers about their dresses for the royal balls to be held in the next few weeks, and squabbling with each other about the tremendously uninterested Dr. Huang, whose lack of interest in them did nothing to diminish their interest in him.
“Sonny,” King Dominick laughed as he sipped at a particularly fine brandy, “is so disappointed he couldn’t throw the first pitch last night at the exhibition game. Still, he wasn’t letting the children down, despite that, and this insane weather we’ve been having.” It had rained heavily for the better part of the week.
“He adores reading to the children at the libraries,” Queen Maria acknowledged. “I think that’s how he’s handling his disappointment about the game.”
“What?” asked Barba, deep into a heavily peated single malt Scotch. “He’s not sitting up at night studying my most recent tournament play and preparing to meet his doom? I’m not one to throw a match just to let the popular favorite win.”
“He wouldn’t want you to do that, anyway,” the queen chided. “If he wins, he wants to do it himself. If he loses, he’s the best sport in the world. He really does just want to know what it’s like to play against you. You’re one of the best players around. He hasn’t been serious about chess since college, probably because he didn’t have anyone to push him. And I’m sure you didn’t have time to develop your game while you were studying law, either.”
“Well, no,” Barba acknowledged. “It did take time away from the game. Work still does.”
“It’s a friendly match,” Lady Benson observed. “It really doesn’t matter who wins or loses. Has anyone staked anything on it? I mean here, not the bookies. The bookies are putting money on you, naturally. But is there a bottle of something riding on it? Or possibly a demand that the Prince take over the kitchen to make a tray of his cannoli for you? Maybe I should promise to take the winner out to dinner with me.”
“Not if that means your son, too,” the Lord Justice groused genially. “If I’m bleeding you for dinner where I want to go, I want to enjoy it in peace and quiet, Liv.”
“I didn’t say you got a choice of restaurants, did I?” She raised her glass to him. “Besides, I like betting on underdogs. I say the prince has it.”
That was enough. “Okay, Liv. Side bet. If I win, dinner where I pick, and you don’t get to complain about the prices. If he wins, I owe you a case of Chenin Blanc. Your choice of label.” The Lord Justice crossed his arms and stared at her. “You on?”
That was, quite naturally, the moment when General Tutuola burst into the room. “Sorry, Your Majesty, but we got a situation. With all the rain, there was a roof leak at the 124th Street Library and there was a collapse. I got men on it right now but I needed to tell you.”
“Is anyone injured?” the King asked.
“Oh my God!” That was the Queen. “Sonny’s reading for the children at 124th Street! He’s in there. What’s happening?”
“I don’t know. I’m waiting for reports. Got to head up there right now. Lady Amanda was helping him.”
“I’m coming, too!” the Queen announced. She looked for a servant. “Tell the cooks to send coffee, hot chocolate, and soup, all they can make, and all the blankets they can find, up to the library. What the children don’t need, the fire fighters will. And I don’t care if I have to crawl through mud and plaster in these brand new Manolo Blahniks, I’m finding Sonny myself if I have to!”
Queen Maria was such a whirl of activity that it wasn’t immediately apparent that the Lord Justice had gulped down the remainder of his Scotch and disappeared while she was issuing orders. He wasn’t sure precisely why he was leaving Gracie Palace to head uptown, but there had to be some reason that the chief legal mind of the kingdom needed to be there. Surely he had to check that there weren’t any suits likely to be filed against the kingdom by aggrieved parents. Or maybe he had to assess liability. Or something.
Surely he wasn’t heading there to deal with the extraordinary legal issues of the death of an heir to the throne. Especially not that one. Barba couldn’t help the uncharitable thought that Princesses Theresa and Gina should have been more responsible about volunteering for causes so that one of them could have been crushed instead of their infinitely more likeable brother.
The King had been right at the chess tournament. The Lord Justice should have swallowed his ridiculous pride ages before this point had been reached. Rather than finally confronting any feelings at all he might have for Sonny Carisi on a rainy night on the way to a disaster in which the prince might be injured or dead, he should have been the adult he pretended to be, and spoken either to the prince directly, or to King Dominick.
When he reached the library, before General Tutuola or Queen Maria had arrived, Barba made his overwhelming presence known to the firefighters and police officers at the scene, and, with an adrenalin rush born of a combination of sheer bravado and the comprehension of stupidity, barged directly into the building.
In the main library room, a complicated series of rugs and jackets had been draped across shelves and stacks of books. Flashlights and lighting being installed by rescue crews revealed a group of children seated above water on more stacks of books, munching happily on sandwiches, while Lady Amanda Rollins fussed over them and Prince Sonny waved his arms, turning a story about a childhood baseball game with friends into a tale of potentially cosmic importance. The young listeners and a couple of members of the rescue squad were enthralled. So was the Lord Justice, for one moment.
Then it dawned on him. He had rushed across the city, nearly forty blocks, in fear that Prince Sonny and any number of children – and for that matter, Lady Amanda, whose being there hadn’t really registered until that moment – were injured or dead, and the Prince was sitting on a pile of broken plaster under a carpet, having the best time in the world, as if nothing had gone wrong. It was wrong. It was irritating. It was time for the Lord Justice to throw one of his famous fits of rage. In fact, it was essential, because if he didn’t, the Lord Justice would be forced to confront an emotion, which clearly wouldn’t do at all.
“Sonny Carisi,” he ranted, ignoring all etiquette, “what the hell – how dare you –“ as he marched up to the younger man whose arms were still moving.
Lady Amanda inserted herself between Barba’s amazingly unruined suit and the prince. “Language, Rafael – there are children present!”
Barba coughed. “Oh. Right.” He began turning slightly pink, but of course this was only because of being caught cursing in front of children, not because he was now nearly nose to nose with the man who was most definitely not the object of any affections that the Lord Justice most certainly denied having.
Prince Sonny was looking a bit flushed himself, and, much unlike his usual attitude of cocksure cheeriness, slightly bewildered.
Lady Amanda, seeing an issue, grabbed each of them by the shoulder and forced them even closer. “I don’t suppose it’s occurred to either of you that this is a fairy tale? And that the prince is safe and that it’s clearly time for you to grab him and kiss him senseless?”
Barba looked at her mercilessly. “You’re the one who reminded me we’re in front of children, aren’t you?”
A junior chorus of whistles and stamping feet, not unexpectedly, began. “Kiss him! Kiss him! Kiss him!” was chanted over the other noises, just as Queen Maria and the general entered the reading room.
The Queen looked over the situation, and then at Tutuola. “Finally,” she sighed.
“Damn time,” the general agreed.
“This is highly inappropriate, and I’m not kissing anyone in front of this pack of demon spawn!” Barba grabbed Prince Sonny by the hand and dragged him away, completely ignoring Her Royal Highness and the commander of the army.
“Some things never change, do they,” Tutuola observed as Lady Amanda walked over.
“Nope,” Lady Amanda chuckled. “But if I were you, Your Highness, I’d start working on the menu for the reception.”
* * *
And so it came to pass that Lord Justice Rafael Barba married Prince Sonny. He was still grouchy and belligerent, though extremely well-dressed, and Prince Sonny was still a magnet to all of the small children that the Lord Justice threatened feebly to have roasted for dinner.
Princesses Theresa and Gina failed miserably at marrying Dr. Huang, though Theresa seized upon Sir Michael Cutter. They were separated within a year, and Princess Theresa went to live abroad. Sir Michael appeared in the courts of justice before his brother-in-law the Lord Justice regularly, as he always had, although they were now considerably more sympathetic to each other than before Sir Michael had made the mistake of marrying the eldest of the royal siblings. Princess Gina became engaged at the first major ball to the second man she danced with that evening, a visiting funeral director who was in town for a convention and had walked into the wrong hotel ballroom by mistake. The engagement lasted nearly an hour. Lord Justice Barba and the Prince decided to wait until the next ball to announce their engagement, and to do it before Princess Gina walked into the ballroom.
And, as Lady Amanda had predicted, the overly cheerful prince and the thoroughly grumpy Lord Justice were extremely happy together. Eventually Prince Sonny and Princess Bella became King Sonny and Queen Bella, and ruled the Kingdom of New York together while their husbands avoided each other like the plague most of the time. And without Princess Theresa in the kingdom, or anywhere on the continent for that matter, and with Princess Gina traveling around North America searching out funeral directors to find her wayward erstwhile fiancé, everyone else lived happily ever after.
And while both Prince Sonny and Lord Justice Barba played chess, they never wound up having that match, and they never, ever, played against each other. It seemed safer that way.