The Empress of Khal Manar
What is there in a prologue to say, but this:
Despite such a loud and decorative title,
Think of this silly work,
A compilation of pretty words and paper,
Simply the tale of a girl,
Who loved a boy.
Atlantis Talerian was eighteen years old when she assumed the throne that was to be left to her father. As in any succession, it was a series of painful days that led to one moment of triumph for a nation. It was neither a simple nor small task, and at the time many doubted that the young woman had the strength to hold the empire together.
Now, in the seventh year of her reign, it could be said generally that the people were happy. The young Empress was intuitive and well-advised, she was a planner, a manager, and an organizer. It was like she could see things coming on waves of the future, and was steadily making progress in preparing her empire to handle change smoothly. Through intense negotiation and some fighting, she brought peace to warring factions that were threatening to burst the seams of her Grandfather's rule wide open. She brought together a high council not only of friends, but of experts in their own right, who could easily see what was best for the empire. She liked to keep things simple, wasn't interested in power or immortality, and so kept a level head, thriving in trade and economics. There was only one thing many would say the young Empress never was, and that, was lucky in love.
It was early, Atlantis' favorite time of day, peaceful and quiet. There were no sounds in the air to interrupt the continuous rhythm of the surf against the shore, and the wind in the tall palm trees. Spring had returned, and though it didn't slow in the capital city of Dalis, the weather was getting warmer, the clouds moving off, pushing their rains back to the higher levels of the coastal mountains. Atlantis found herself looking forward to the busy summer season in the palace, she loved the festivals, the warm weather, the smell of outdoor cooking, and the way Dalis, city of the regent, came alive. Tourists from all over the empire converged on the market laden streets of Dalis for it's pristine ports and beautifully luxurious beaches. Atlantis wrapped her knit shawl tighter around her shoulders, she leaned against the balcony, and watched the morning fog traipse through the garden.
Her duties in the high court were endless, except in the summer time. It seemed that the Lords, Ministers and people of high ranking positions who lingered in the courts during the winter, often afforded themselves the opportunity to get away from the rush of it all, and Atlantis loved it. The only so called fly in her glass of champagne seemed to be irritatingly focused around the old ideas perpetuated even by a majority of the younger members of her court, that Atlantis should have been married by now, or at least she should be actively looking to be. Her fair share of suitors had come and gone, over and over dashing the hopes that this man would finally father an heir to the Talerian throne. She knew the names her rivals called her, the most infuriating was Ice Queen.
"Oh good, you're up."
"Good morning, Marria." Atlantis smiled a greeting at her Court Minister - the woman who knew more intimate details about Atlantis Talerian, than she did herself. It was early, Marria wasn't yet dressed in her full court regalia. She was wearing a simple gown, tied at her waist with an organza sash. She was a pretty girl, her large brown eyes hid themselves behind her rich mahogany locks. As the only member of Atlantis' intimate circle who was married, she offered the most advice on relationships, solicited or otherwise. She'd fallen in love with a merchant's son, who'd gone out of his way to impress her by carving furniture. Atlantis admired the pair, but even more, Marria. Raised int the palace from the time they were children, Marria was Atlantis' most trusted confidant.
"A little early, even for you, wouldn't you say?" Marria asked, her eyes scanning the electronic board in her hands.
"Hardly anyone has demands at six-thirty in the morning." Atlantis smiled. Marria raised her eyebrows, pursing her lips in disagreement.
"Unfortunately, today is not that day." She handed the board to Atlantis. "We've received word from the high court of the Dorenai. He is travelling here." Glancing up from the reader board, Atlantis paused.
"Kale Farharad?" The question in Atlantis' voice was obvious. Her mouth felt dry.
"He's coming here..." Marria repeated.
"But, he can't." Atlantis protested quickly, over the rush of emotion reaching up into her throat. "The Lorandon Accord very clearly states that he is to stay well within his own boarders. Or at the very least, stay out of ours."
"According to this, he asked for a discontinuance of the accord almost a year ago." Marria replied softly. She knew this was a sensitive topic.
"Why is this the first I'm hearing of it? Who did he ask?"
"Was it granted?" Atlantis demanded, scrolling through the notes on the reader board more quickly, looking for an answer.
"The council granted it, Atlantis." Marria reached for the board.
"That is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard." Atlantis almost shouted. "Remind me why I need that group constantly interfering in my life?"
"The people need fair representation before you, my Lady."
"Of course they do. But this has nothing to do with the people."
"That isn't how they feel. The people want a secure throne."
"It would be less secure if I was married to that man." Atlantis replied sourly. "Besides, I never saw this request, it's impossible that they've already granted it."
"You wouldn't have had to see it, it was temporary."
"Temporary." Atlantis sniffed.
"I imagine they meant to tell you." Marria said, Atlantis knew she didn't believe the words herself. The council had the power to work on behalf of the people without a great deal of interference from Atlantis. In general they worked together, but when it came to Atlantis' marriage the divide between Atlantis and the Twenty-nine differed greatly.
"Oh, I'm sure." Atlantis said, sarcastically, a flush of anger splaying across her cheeks. "My trusted councilors, the Twenty-nine people in this Empire who think more about my marriage than I do. The one thing I don't understand is why they think that allowing Kale Farharad to cross our boarders is going to make me feel like getting married."
"They probably think they're helping." Marria tried to comfort her friend, the news was obviously disturbing.
"Good morning." Another voice echoed across the balcony, interrupting the pair.
"Good morning, Dawnira." Marria answered, Atlantis hadn't heard the greeting, she was rubbing the bottom of her chin with one hand, while the other was pinned to her side. Marria gave Atlantis a gentle shove.
"Good morning." She muttered, distracted.
"Looks like you've already received the news." Dawnira replied, as she joined them."That saves me what had to be an unpleasant task." Serving as Atlantis' Prime Minister, Dawnira, with Marria oversaw many of the court happenings, but Dawnira 's dealings extended as far as the internal affairs of the Empire. Dawnira had been chosen as the brightest student in her class to work for Atlantis. Their friendship had formed quickly, as Dawnira's wry sense of humor spoke to Atlantis' own need to find humor when there seemed to be none. She was pretty, drawing the attentions of almost as many admirers as Atlantis herself. Her long, ebony hair was tied up in a lose tumble at the back of her head, accenting her rich, olive colored skin.
"I did lose the toss, after all." Marria admitted. "As we suspected, it's not the most popular news she's heard all week." Dawnira confirmed this with a nod.
"Well, if it didn't end badly enough, he wants to come back here and re-live it all?" Atlantis demanded. "I can't imagine what he's thinking. I'm not going to be the replacement for that poor woman who ended up married to him."
"God rest her." Marria said quickly.
"We don't know for sure what he wants, Atlantis. I don't think there' s any real reason to be so upset." Dawnira pointed out logically.
"What do you mean, we don't know for sure?" Atlantis repeated.
"He could want an audience with you for any reason."
"Dawn, you know as well as I do why he's coming. He's sorely in need of a wife, especially one who happens to have access to the greatest cash of natural resources on this entire planet. I know what you're both thinking. Why else would he have gone to the trouble to have a temporary stay put on the Lorandon Accord?" Atlantis asked.
"The Lorandon Accord limits trade with the Talerian Trade Federation, that's all." Dawnira pointed out. "You know his economy is in rough shape. Perhaps he would like those avenues re-opened. It's been nearly eight years, after all."
"It also invokes a cessation of his obligation to continue to pay reparations." Atlantis added."It's how the Princes and Kings of this planetary system do it. They first approach a potential marriage alliance in the trade sectors, and from there weasel their way into the courtroom, where they're hoping to eventually find themselves room in the bed of an unsuspecting, but not necessarily good-looking female regent. Kale has no heir, and neither do I. It will be his strongest argument."
"That very plan has failed in the past." Dawnira pointed out.
"If he only wanted trade rights, he would have sent an ambassador." Marria agreed. The women were silent. Each considering the possibilities.
"Wait..."Dawnira burst out. "And didn't he do just that? A few months ago? We didn't see much of the man, but he seemed hardly a threat, he spent most of his time buttering up the council to soften the agreements of the Lorandon Accord."
"You're sure he sent an ambassador?" Atlantis' mind threaded back over the dozens of faces who had come and gone in the past months.
"You remember, don't you? The awkward one. I've never seen one man walk into as many walls as Ambassador Torek."
"When was that?" Marria asked.
"Don't you remember? A few months back?"
"I do! We were right in the middle of the Palsaris celebrations and the treaty talks with the Kolisarians." Atlantis replied.
"Ahhh, a stealth attack." Marria said dryly.
"Well, isn't it like they say? Time heals all wounds?" Dawnira asked, a teasing smile playing at her lips.
"Time heals them just fine. It's that he's going around digging them up again that bothers me." Atlantis answered quietly.
"Try not to let it worry you. Maybe he is just passing through." Marria said, reassuringly. Dawniria pressed some buttons on the electronic pad she was carrying. She was reading the newly updated list of things that were important for Atlantis to be aware of. She scanned the list quietly, throwing out non-critical information.
"Lord Grey won't be home for another week or so." She said, referring to another of Atlantis' close advisers. "It looks like things are going better than we planned with the negotiations of some of the outer planets. Hopefully he can bring a good solution to the trouble that the workers are having." The Empire of Khal Manar was composed of one large planet, that Atlantis Talerian called home, and three smaller outer planets. Those planets had joined an alliance, bringing them into the Manarian Empire, and Atlantis offered them military support, protection and aid, while they sent raw natural resources to Atlantis. In general each of the planets governed themselves, and were represented on the Empress' High Council.
"Andoran Grey is intuitive. I hope his extension means things are progressing as we hoped." Atlantis turned toward her chambers, with Dawnira and Marria trailing after her. She seemed to appreciate the change of conversation to lighter matters.
"Your cousin Hayden is sending you the workers you asked for to help complete the Outer Planet's Embassy in Dalis. The Nikao will arrive within the next three or four days."
"Captain Adrian isn't in charge of that star ship any more, is he? I heard it changed hands." Atlantis wondered aloud. Dawnira nodded.
"I believe a Captain Ryder has been in command for about a year now."
"Isn't the Nikao an exploration ship?" Marria asked.
"She was built to be, but she's getting older. She'll be in dry dock while the embassy is being built, but I think she only goes on merchant runs now." Dawnira nodded.
"I thought that old ship would run forever." Atlantis mused. She was fond of that star ship. One of the first her Grandfather had ever procured, as he accepted the advancement of technology in his old regime. She had played on board as a child. She appreciated the simpler life on the planet's surface, but technology allowed her to reach into the stars for the good of the empire.
"They're talking about restoring her, she's one of the first greats. But no one has taken on the project." Dawnira maintained.
"Well, we can't have that, can we?" Atlantis asked with a smile. "Look into that, will you Marria?"
"Of course." Marria jotted down the note. With that, they said their goodbyes, and split up to prepare for the day. By the time Atlantis reached her dressing rooms, she was already deep into the recesses of her mind.