Friday, 26 October 2012

Chapter 5 - Part A

Sunny afternoons blended together into quiet evenings and Atlantis, for the most part, uncharacteristically stayed confined to her chambers.  She was afraid of going out, and having Kale learn of his sudden competition, or Andoran, whose step from friendship to intimacy made Atlantis so want to hide in the deep recesses of the servants quarters, that she was sure the only place she was truly safe was her bedchamber, where Andoran had never been allowed.
            To be honest, she had spent a great deal of time in prayer over the matter, and with no clear answer as of yet, during several restless nights, she let her mind run rampant with thoughts of marriage, and life with both of the men.  She wasn’t sure what frightened her about Andoran, perhaps it was only that he knew her in a way that even Kale did not.  He knew her secrets and vulnerabilities, and knew the way she operated.  She had to admit that in itself the idea of marrying Andoran was just ever so slightly more appealing than marrying Kale.  Somehow, she really believed that Andoran loved her, and thought that she’d heard again and again that friends make good marriage partners.  It wouldn’t really be a difficult transition, it would only take her thoughts changing with the times.  Yet, she still hadn’t accustomed herself to the idea.  In that vein she wondered if she’d discounted Kale completely, and the answer there was a very shaky no.  It was becoming more and more clear that Kale would likely be the poorer of the two choices, but he had not only the position of power, but also the permission of the council.  She also knew that he would be the one accepted by the people.  It was a balancing act, one happily interrupted by thoughts of Nicolai Ryder, which were often sadly put aside in favour of glaring reality.  If Andoran would barely be acceptable, then Nicolai wouldn’t even be considered as a potential candidate. 
            Atlantis looked up once again from the hand-carved mahogany desk that sat in the center of her personal office to see Anya, her personal maid walk by her door with a look of confusion plastered over her pretty features for the third time in nearly ten minutes.
            “What is it Anya?” She called, interrupting the girl’s internal dialogue.
            “Well...” Anya paused, looking confused, then somewhat embarrassed, as if this were not important enough to take any of Atlantis’ time.
            “Please, I need a distraction.” Atlantis called, making her way to the door. 
            “Well, for the past three days, we’ve been receiving these letters addressed to a Laina Bayl, and no one I talk to knows who she is, but the sender insists that she’s a personal assistant to the Empress.  This is the third one, and he seems so persistent I just can’t return the letters to him.  Besides, I know I’m new.  She could be anyone.” Anya said, throwing her arms into a shrug. 
            “Let me see.”Atlantis said immediately, reaching for the small envelopes.  She glanced at the handwriting, and assuming it must be Nicolai, she added, “If anything else comes for Laina Bayl, just pass it along to me.” She said, tucking the envelopes in a side pocket, as if they were completely unimportant, that once Anya’s back was turned Atlantis would forget all about it.
            “I will, my Lady.” Anya said, happy to have the mistake off of her hands.  Atlantis pressed her hand to her pocket, as if she were protecting valuable treasure, and closed her office doors behind her.  She used the glass door that blended in with each of her large glass windows, and opening it she stole onto a very well shaded balcony.  It was the only one of Atlantis balcony’s that had a roof, and the large columns holding it, were covered with long, lush ivy, sporting bright, white flowers.  She tore into the first envelope, like a thirsty man starving for water.
            My Dearest Laina,
Never before have I found myself so consumed in thought and in heart with any one person.  Therefore, in the spirit of all that has gone before me in romance and love, I petition you to meet with me in the Devorak Pavillion at eight-o-clock and you and I shall dance on the stars of passion, friendship, and of course, sensibility.  Answer me quickly, so that I won’t perish in the waiting.
                                                                                                            Nicolai Ryder
Atlantis eyes grew wide.  She glanced at the date on the letter.  It had been sent two days ago, and she hadn’t even known of it, her heart pounded and her hands were shaky as she reached for the next one. 
 My Lady,
My heart is cracked but not unfixable, as I laid awake awaiting some reply.  There are of course, a million reasons, but perhaps my passion is just too strong.  Yet, a small voice deep inside tells me that perhaps all hope is not lost, that I yet have the chance to win your affections.  So, I should tell you that the reason I ask for your time is because time is of the most precious of our gifts.  Once we have given time, we cannot take it back, and I would willingly spend every minute with you, if you so desired.  So, come tonight and we will feast on love, laugh at life, and marvel at beauty.  Eight-o-clock, and the hour is perfect.
                                                                                                Yours, Nicolai Ryder
Atlantis couldn’t help grinning like a silly schoolgirl, followed by a giggle.  She knew that he was playing up the romance, it was unlike him - but like him at the same time.  Her breathed out slowly trying to slow the insistent pounding of her heart as her stomach clenched in anticipation.  It disturbed her, she’d sat sulking in her quarters for two whole nights while Nicolai pined away for her affection.  Her behaviour was unthinkable.  With some hesitancy she reached for the third and final envelope.  It was the newest one, and possibly would contain an invitation for this very evening.  She read the words slowly.
 Sweet Lady,
There are only so many reasons that I can imagine why you would decline my invitations two evenings in a row, and yet, here I am foolish enough, and desperate enough to beg you for a third.  My heart is in your very hands, and I believe that there must be a reason why you have failed to meet me, but after tonight I will beg you no more.  Yet, I must still beckon to your sensibilities, that if you miss you may be missing the answer to your very dreams.  You have captured me, and I am enraptured by you, and everything about you.  Not only are you beautiful, you are intelligent and funny.  I consider myself the luckiest of men, to have spent so many precious moments in your presence, and if now is the time to say goodbye, then it is with a heavy heart I retreat, not the prince to win your hand.  But, if by chance you find your way the hour is again, eight-o-clock, and I will be yours with no question, and all the promises I hold.  I feel no remorse over the letters past, only hope, that tonight I shall hold you in my arms.
                                                                        Affectionately Yours, Nicolai Ryder

Atlantis bounded to her feet, and went in search of a clock.  Her heart was pounding in her ears, and she prayed over and over that she would be in time.  She could see that the summer sun was already beginning to crawl timidly behind the mountains, not eager to end the glorious day, like a child, sad to be sent to bed while light still filled the sky.  Giving a cry of frustration, Atlantis darted from one room to the next bemoaning the fact that she had not given instructions to have a clock placed in every room. 
            “My lady?” Anya questioned, as she came upon Atlantis frantically tearing apart a drawer of clothes in her closet.
            “Time, Anya.  I need the time.” Atlantis blurted, her voice on the edge of despair.
            “Quarter to nine.” Anya answered promptly.
            “How do you know?” Atlantis started, but following Anya’s gaze to the large decorative clock over the fireplace, brought another cry to her throat as she ran to the closet containing her summer dresses. 
            “What is it my Lady?”
            “I...uh...”Atlantis paused in her frantic tossing of gowns to answer. “I forgot that I had a meeting with someone...” She called, stuffing the letters into an open drawer and slamming it shut.  “Do you know where that light blue dress is?” She asked, flinging her gowns aside one by one.
“The short one with the wide gathered straps and knee length skirt?”
“It has a sapphire trim?” Atlantis nearly shouted from her place buried in the gowns on the rack.
“Here, my lady.” Anya offered, showing the dress as if she’d been holding it the entire time.  A cry of victory escaped her lips, as Atlantis reached for the gown. 
“Anya, I need my blue silk flats with the sapphire buckles, and the pearl clips for my hair.”Atlantis bubbled excitedly, as she flew past Anya into the changing area to get ready.  Both the shoes and the clips were waiting for her by the time Atlantis burst from her changing room, motioning for Anya to tie the long sash.  Her stomach quivered with excitement that jittered out over her arms and legs.  She could barely get her hair up right, and had to wait for Anya to give her a hand, while she touched up her own make-up.  After what seemed like forever, she was ready, and with a wave to Anya, she crept into the gardens hoping to avoid any unwanted attention. 
It was exactly nine-twenty-seven, when she rounded the corner to the well lit pavilion, but Nicolai was no-where in sight.  Of course, she scolded herself, you’re an hour and a half late.   Reaching for a handful of blue and purple hydrangeas she clipped a bunch off of the bush, Atlantis traipsed through a covered walkway, and rounded the corner to the front door of Nicolai’s suite.  Pausing at his door, she gathered a deep breath.  Her mind was racing, but she had to see him.  The words he’d sent her had been perfect, and she couldn’t stop herself.  Tonight she was Laina Bayl, who loved Nicolai Ryder, and that was all.  Biting her lip, she knocked on the door.  Long moments passed, as she tried to quiet her heartbeat long enough to see if she could hear footsteps coming to the door.  Before she decided whether she heard them or not, the door swung open.  Nicolai froze, the surprise evident on his face.  She drank him in.  His dark hair curled over his forehead, nearly hiding the deep chartreuse of his eyes.  His strong arms were bracing themselves on the door and on the door frame, and he was wearing a white, dress shirt, unbuttoned and open at the collar.  His tie hung undone around his neck, and his black pants barely hid his grey socks with blue toes.  A slow smile spread over his tanned features, as Atlantis played with the hydrangeas in her hands. 
“I got your letters.” She said, melting beneath his gaze. 
“I hoped you would.” He drawled.
“May I still come in?” Atlantis asked timidly, as if he may turn her away. He reached for her hand, and in one motion, like they were dancing, drew her into the room, closing the door behind her. 
“I haven’t stopped thinking about this.” He said, gathering her in his arms, Nicolai kissed her, and Atlantis floated away.      

Gross indignation was spread over his face like butter on hot toast.  She hadn’t even had the dignity to come to him herself; instead Atlantis, like a coward, had waited until he’d heard it through the grapevine.  Atlantis Talerian was laughing in his face, she wasn’t only entertaining him as a prospect of marriage, she was also engaged to her man-slave, the low-life degenerate, Andoran Grey.  Not only was it humiliating, but it was demoralizing.  She couldn’t expect that he would put up with this behaviour for any length of time.  Kale had only seen Atlantis on a handful of outings, and had attended only three parties with her.  She was avoiding him, while trying to replace him with the man that Kale had always suspected of maintaining an inappropriate relationship with Atlantis.  Contrary to all learned behaviour, and not for the first time in his life, Kale was about to make a scene.
            Atlantis, on the other hand, was blissfully happy, and completely unaware of the storm blowing in her direction.  She’d spent a perfect evening with Nicolai, he’d warmed up the cold food, they’d eaten and talked, sitting under the stars, then they’d danced and just after midnight, Nicolai walked her home.  Truth be told, she’d forgotten about Kale and his declarations of love, and of Andoran and his heartfelt accolades, and only thought of, dreamed of, felt, Nicolai.  Even Marria had watched her suspiciously, as Atlantis met her at her bedroom door with bubbling conversation, instead of Marria having to shake her awake.  She’d gone to the temple to pray to the all powerful God of the Manarians.  In her heart she was thankful, and instead of tears, she smiled for her God.  It was then that she heard what some may call a ruckus, and others a hurricane.  It was on her knees, she heard the doors of the outer temple slammed open, sending a crash through the rooms. 
            Marria caught the brunt of the cataclysmic reckoning first-hand.  She was just preparing to go into the internal temple.
            “Where is she?” Kale thundered as he burst through the door.
            “She is in the temple, my Lord.” Marria spoke quickly, moving to block his path into the temple. 
            “I demand that you bring that lying whore here to speak to me!” He shouted. 
            “You will not disturb her in the temple, my Lord.” Marria stood between him and an inevitable clash of the titans.  She knew that it would be just the thing that would put Atlantis in a combative mood. 
            “If she has the gall to play me for a fool, I will disturb her anywhere that I like.” Kale reached for Marria’s shoulders to push her aside. 
            “Let her go.” The three words weren’t loud, but they stopped him in his tracks. 
            “Well, if it isn’t my unfaithful Fiance.” Kale sneered.
            “In an attempt to ignore your rudeness, I won’t bring up the fact that I have not officially accepted your proposal, and your raw determination that I do so, does not dictate the response that you desire.” Atlantis snapped.
            “Should I be expecting a positive answer?” Kale demanded.
            “I don’t know, Kale.  This is all very sudden for me.  I wasn’t expecting Andoran to propose.”
            “I wouldn’t be so unsure of my chances, if your affection for me weren’t so widely spread all over the news.” Kale threw a copy of the morning paper in her direction.  Atlantis caught it before it flew over her shoulder.  She pulled it down, furious at his behaviour.  The headline caught her eye.  EMPRESS REJECTS AMOROUS FIANCE.  The picture below showed the pair at a public event a few days previously.  Kale had bent to kiss her, and Atlantis had turned away, unaware that a photograph had been taken. 
            “You shouldn’t believe everything you read.” Atlantis offered, with half a shrug.
            “Do you think this is a joke?’ Kale thundered.
            “I am trying to make light of a difficult situation.” Atlantis returned through gritted teeth.
            “I have the council’s approval!” Kale insisted hotly, he paced in front of her as she held her ground.
            “If the council believes that Andoran will do as well as you, they will support him just as they support you.”  Atlantis chided him.  Kale roared, and swung at a pedestal holding a priceless vase.  Atlantis flinched as it smashed to the floor and the pieces clattered around her feet.
            “Is that so?  The council believes that I am on the same level as this commoner.  I should have known it.” Kale snarled.
            “Should have known what?”
            “What’s been in front of me all of this time.  I remember the way he used to look at you, watch every move you made.  I could see the anger in his eyes when I touched you, he hated it when I was near you.  I should have known you were lovers.”
            “You shouldn’t make accusations, Kale.  They aren’t becoming on royalty.” Atlantis snapped.  Kale laughed maniacally.
            “It’s no wonder you’ve been playing me for a fool, and running to your lover every time my back was turned.  Does he whisper your name in the dark, beg you to mingle your blood with that of a common man?”
            “Stop it, Kale.” Atlantis warned.  Her cheeks burned. 
            “Oh? Have I disrupted your perfect little world? I do apologize.”
            “You don’t understand,” Atlantis tried.
            “Perhaps not, but this is what I do understand, and I know you do too.  I have offered your government free trading rights in all of my provinces.  Even now, the merchants and traders are forming alliances that will make them very rich, very fat men.  Members of your own council who are lining their pockets with my own gold.  I’m sure they will be delighted to inform their newly rich provinces that you would rather invite a commoner to your bed with no wealth or title of his own.”
            “Andoran has earned his name.  He is highly respected.” Atlantis had no choice but to defend him.  She couldn’t let Kale see how his words bothered her.  Of course he was right.  He was bringing wealth into new parts of her empire, and there would be many upset if her marriage to him did not go forward.
            “You have two weeks.”
            “Two weeks?” Atlantis asked.
            “Two weeks, and I am withdrawing my proposal.  Either accept, or I leave.  Do you understand? If you stay here and let your heart rule your empire, don’t call me when it falls apart around you.” With that, Kale stormed from the room.  Atlantis was left to fume over his words.  Two weeks.  How was she supposed to make this kind of a decision in only two weeks?  She folded her arms over her chest.  There had to be an answer, and she would find it.  She had too.  

Dawniria balanced the heavy ledger in her arms.  She was tired, like she hadn’t slept in weeks and the tossing and turning didn’t help.  She couldn’t stop thinking about Kale and his brazen offers.  Despite the sweet advances of the mail-room guy, who she couldn’t even remember the name of at the moment, she wondered what he was really after or what he was ready to offer.  She knew that Kale was nervous about Andoran’s offer of an engagement, and wondered if Kale wanted his own backup plan.  Dawniria wondered what it would be like to sleep in the arms of a King, perhaps even as his queen.  As the mistress of the Emperor, she would have access to a great deal of influence, but she would have to share her power, and would Atlantis really stand for it, as the famous ladies of the past?  Probably not, one thing that the Empress was famous for, was her inability to push things under the rug.  The only way Atlantis would allow Dawniria a place on Kale’s arm, if Atlantis first rejected his proposal.  Dawniria couldn’t be sure that would happen.  She sighed, sucking in the night air, as if it would bring her some kind of clarity.  The gardens were quiet, it was late and the only break was the golden glow of the lanterns along the path.  She could hear voices, soft, close and the last thing Dawniria wanted was to be caught up between two love-birds, unsure of which side of the path to move to, and so she veered off the path, under an alcove, protected by the cover of night.  The voices seemed to be getting closer, and just as Dawniria reached the side entrance, and was moving toward the door handle, when she heard a familiar voice. 
            “I can’t believe that.” The voice laughed.  Dawniria froze.  It was Atlantis, and even more shocking, she was with a man.  For a moment Dawniria felt her stomach plummet, spiked with genuine jealousy, but it righted itself when she realized that it wasn’t Kale.  Even more intriguing, it wasn’t Andoran either.  As the pair came into view, Dawniria shrank deeper into the shadow of the door.  She watched as their conversation turned in, and covered a gasp as he reached for her hand.  Who was this man? Dawniria narrowed her eyes.  Atlantis was behaving absurdly, she had never before seen any man take Atlantis’ hand, not even Andoran Grey.  Dawniria was appalled, and fought the urge to burst out of her hiding spot and reprimand Atlantis.  She was supposed to be engaged, twice over, after all.  The man was handsome, and charming.  He was teasing Atlantis, trying to convince her that his outlandish story was true.  With a final laugh, and to Dawniria’s amazement the man pulled Atlantis into his arms and kissed her.  Her stomach dropped, not only was Atlantis lying, she was unfaithful.  It wasn’t right, and indignation burned under Dawniria’s skin. 
            Kale had to know.  Biting down on her lip, Dawniria retreated into the palace.  For a moment she considered knocking on Marria’s door, but as she approached it, she realized that Marria would only take Atlantis’ side.  She would convince Dawniria that they would deal with it in the morning.  Atlantis would likely deny the whole thing, and Kale would be left in the dark.  No, this was it, her opportunity to bring it to Kale, a legitimate reason to be alone with him.    She bit her bottom lip and paused briefly at a hallway mirror.  If she’d known that she’d be visiting Kale, she might have chosen differently.  But, at least this way, she didn’t look as if she’d planned her visit.  She tossed her shawl onto a nearby chair, briefly reminding herself to pick it up when she returned.  The dress itself was stunning, a sleeveless, high collar cut that hugged her curves all the way down to her demure sandals, cutting a stunning figure.  Her hair was pinned up and twisted into a knot at the nape of her neck.  If she recalled correctly, she noticed Kale admiring her in this very gown earlier in the day.  She nodded to herself  with something that felt like final resolve.  She didn’t expect anything from Kale, but would let him take the lead. 
            She stopped at a window on the lower floor and gazed up at Kale’s rooms in the tower.  The lights still burned brightly and Dawniria accepted it as her invitation.  She was gracefully received at the door of his chambers and ushered into a small waiting area.  She could hear Kale’s voice pause as the servant quietly announced her arrival to Kale.  There was a short pause, and then in a very sophisticated and grand manner, he thanked his guests and ushered them toward the door.  Dawniria drew in a long and shaky breath, for a moment she turned on her heel, debating whether or not she should bolt for the door. 
            “Lady Dawniria, I didn’t expect I would be seeing you so late in the evening.” Kale spoke from behind her.  His voice was smooth, like chocolate.  Dawniria turned slowly, drinking him in. He looked perfet, his shirt was cotton, casually expensive, open at the wide collar and resting against straight black pants. 
            “Not too late, I hope.” Dawniria replied slowly, confidently. 
            “No, not too late.” Kale regarded her with a sensual calm, swirling a rich wine in the bottom of a wide mouthed glass. “Won’t you come in?”
            “Thank you.” Dawniria smiled and with a toss of her head left her conscience at the door, and traipsed in after her heart. 
            “Something to drink?” Kale asked, moving to a table heavy with a dozen glittering bottles of the richest of liquors. 
            “Please.” Dawniria moved around the room slowly, admiring the fine art and exotic furniture as if she’d never seen it before. 
            “I have to say, I’m surprised to see you.” Kale said, pouring from a large decanter. 
            “Are you?”
            “Yes, pleasantly surprised.” Kale flashed a perfect, even grin.  Dawniria raised her glass to her lips. 
            “2023 Port.  Excellent choice.” Dawniria took the seat that Kale offered on the plush, white couch.  Kale sat beside her, his arm slung over the back, alternately tapping, interested in why she was with him, but too promising to begin demanding.
            “So, there is a member of the empress’ sober court, who is well educated in culture and wines.” Kale nodded.
            “Oh, it’s not so sober.  There are secrets folded in the robes of the empress.”
            “And your policy is?”
            “Don’t ask, don’t tell.”
            “And if someone were to ask, would they get the truth?”
            “Maybe...” Dawniria languished the word, and drank slowly from the glass.  She could see that she’d piqued Kale’s interest.  He was moving closer to her in such a way that he was hoping she wouldn’t notice.   He wanted to know what she wanted, and it excited her.  She was the only one in his gaze, and Atlantis didn’t exist.  No one existed but her, and she loved it. 
            “Maybe?” Kale repeated, enjoying Dawniria’s little game.
            “I know a girl, a girl who’s never been able to tell him, he’s been the first thought of her heart every morning, and every evening.”  She looked into her glass, as if she was studying the deep ruby velvet of the wine. 
            “What if I told you a secret?”
            “Hmm?” Dawniria raised her eyes, just above the rim of her glass.  
            “I know a boy, who’s noticed a girl at every turn and in every place but was forbidden to be with her, to hold her, touch her and make her his own.  He wants her, but he shouldn’t have her.”
            Dawniria leaned toward him, closing the space between them. 
            “Can he get to her?” She asked, her voice dropping to a whisper. 
            “If she’ll let him, I think he can.” Kale traced his fingers over Dawniria’s knee.     
            “She’s afraid.”
            “Of what?”
            “Of the others.”
            “But, if it’s just a girl who loves a boy, then who else would know?” Kale breathed slowly into her ear.  She was melting, just like he knew she would.  Dawniria was a pleasant surprise, just the distraction he was looking for.  She leaned into him, welcoming his embrace.  He kissed her, slowly at first, but slowly he demanded more and more, so that she might not even notice.  She returned his passion, and didn’t fight him as he scooped her up into his arms, and carried her to his large, soft, canopied bed.  He laid her down gently, kissing her again, moving to her throat.
            “I have something to tell you.” Dawniria breathed.
            “Tell me.” Kale whispered into her hair.
            “Atlantis isn’t faithful to you.”

Andoran smiled contentedly to himself, whistling as he dressed.  He’d just returned to the palace again, and this time it was for good.  He was finished with the outer provinces for the summer and was happy to be spending it with Atlantis.  She hadn’t officially accepted his proposal, and it would have to go before the council, but he saw the look on her face, as if he’d offered her a world she’d never even thought of.  The luxury of the idea of having Atlantis Talerian as his wife had before only come to him in secret moments, but now that was all he could think about.  As far as he was concerned Kale Farharad could pack his bags permanently, and no one would be happier than Andoran to wave him right out of Port Branar, in fact, Andoran would pack Kale’s bags grinning from ear to ear if it meant Kale never setting foot in Khal Manar again.  Things were all falling into place, Atlantis would soon see how insignificant help from outer planets really was, and she would be able to set about bringing together his plan for interplanetary trade and co-operations, forcing the outsiders to leave with their corruption forever. 
            “My Lord, Andoran.”
            “Tryst.” Andoran actually smiled.
            “You’re in a fine mood.” Tryst observed, his mouth drawn into a thin line.
            “I will have the Empress.”
            “She accepted your proposal, my Lord?”
            “Not yet, but she will.  Atlantis doesn’t want to be trapped by Kale.  She knows him too well to fall for his trickery.”
            “You’ve just returned, my Lord.”
            “Yes, Tryst, you met me last night coming in, remember? Or has the ambition of these days clouded your memory, my friend?” Andoran replied with a half laugh.
            “You are not familiar with the morning’s gossip, I assume.” Tryst tucked his hands behind his back, rocking on the balls of his feet.  Andoran barely paused to look at him, as he passed by a morning tray, laden with fruit, sweet cream and pastries.  He mused over the dish for a few moments before selecting a few delicacies, and strolling leisurely into his closet.
            “Gossip is for weak minds.” He returned.
            “Gossip is a powerful tool, wielded in the proper hands.” Tryst replied, appearing in the doorway.
            “Alright, what is the gossip?” Andoran asked, brushing past Tryst into his bedroom again.
            “They say, my Lord, that your proposal is gaining popularity with the Empress.  According to my sources, there was a very loud and heated argument between the Empress and Kale concerning you.” Tryst explained.
            “Is that so?” Andoran asked, clearly satisfied with himself.  “I knew it was the very thing to put Kale on the run.  A weakling, it’s a wonder he is able to hold on to his own thrown while trying to snatch the Empress’ from beneath her.  I hear there are forces at work trying to take the throne from the hands of Kale in his own empire.  Oh how the tide turns.”
            “I’ve heard these things myself, my Lord.” Tryst agreed.
            “How did the Lady Atlantis respond to Kale?” Andoran demanded, as if Tryst were telling him nothing more than a bedtime story. 
            “Her decision is yet unclear, however, you and I both know what she feels for Lord Kale.”
            “I believe you’re right.  Don’t you see it, Tryst? Within a matter of months, Khal Manar may be mine.” Andoran raised his arms triumphantly, as he sank onto an overstuffed settee by the window.
            “You can’t celebrate yet, my Lord.” Tryst warned.
            “Why not?”
            “The rumors still persist that Atlantis has not yet declined any of the treaties presented to her by various other empires.  She is still entertaining the Kirlion.” Tryst replied, the gravity of his words settling over his face.
            “I spoke to her about that matter weeks ago.  I’m sure that it’s long settled.” Andoran waved him off.
            “She has invited him to summer here, in Khal Manar as the talks continue.  That sounds far beyond settled, my Lord.”
            “She invited him here?” Andoran was dumfounded, then annoyed. “Why does she persist in making stupid decisions?”  He was on his feet again. “Once we’re married, she will listen to me.”
            “Allow me to speak freely, my Lord.  You know that this point will always be a bone of contention between you and the Empress, even if you share the same bed.  When the time is right, you must show her your final resolve in the matter.  The purity of our people depends on it.  You know as well as I, that the empress would sell the soul of Khal Manar for an inter-galactic menu on her table.”
            “That is hardly fair.  You know the pressure she is getting from those genocide-loving libertines that breathe in her ear on the high council.” Andoran pointed out, as he began to pace the room.
            “The same men you expect to validate your claim to the throne?” Tryst commented, dryly. 
            “I will have enough support if the empress favours me, you know that.”
            “If the empress is being coerced, then you must come to her rescue.  You must provide her with a way out.” Tryst encouraged.
            “Yes.” Andoran answered slowly.  It was true.  The only way to save Atlantis from the constant pressure she faced to make Khal Manar a more and more inter-galactic place, the more she and Andoran would become incompatible.  Something had to be done, and soon. 

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