Atlantis pulled her groggy head up off of her pillow. The sun was shining brightly in her chambers leaving her thoughts clouded and murky. Eventually she’d slept better than she expected, and Marria had let her sleep in. Whenever something happened outside of regular routine, Marria clung religiously to a crazy theory she’d developed about Atlantis’ productivity levels and the amount of sleep she’d had. As Atlantis pulled on a light blue robe, she caught her reflection in the mirror. It struck her how normal she looked. She looked bright, and even fresh after her sleep. Her hair was barely mussed and her night gown was still soft and barely creased in the morning sunshine. It was as if someone had painted a stranger onto the glass of the mirror. She let her fingers rub over the image as if she could wipe away the paint to see the real picture underneath. Her heart broken into pieces, and Nicolai’s words crashing through her thoughts.
She tottered out to the small breakfast nook, where a spread of melon, strawberries and bagels awaited her. Marria must have visited the kitchen, each one of her favourites was included. Atlantis picked up a strawberry, bit off the end and chewed thoughtfully. Absently she studied the garden. It was beautiful in the morning sunlight, with no tell tale sign of the thunderstorm that had shook her chambers when she’d finally retired, except for a thin shimmering veil of dew soaking into the grass and sparkling on the leaves. Atlantis poured herself a cup of fresh tea, and settled into the large cushions.
“Good morning.” Marria rounded the corner, stopping at the table. “How did you sleep?”
Atlantis moved over to give her friend some room. “Fine, eventually.” She poured Marria a cup of tea and set it before her. “Did you want something to eat?”
“No, thanks. I ate about a half an hour ago with Drey.”
“Of course. How is your charming husband?” Atlantis reached for a piece of melon, and another strawberry.
“He’s just fine. Happy to be tucked away in that old woodshed, carving away the hours. He’s worried for you. He said, the only problems he has in his day usually come with hiding a joint in furniture.” Marria sipped her tea, she was trying to be comfortable, to make conversation and to slowly bring life back to normal.
“He thinks I should be a carpenter?”
“Maybe, he thinks it would bring you less stress.”
“I’d likely slice off one of my hands, then where would we be?” Atlantis tried to joke, but Marria only smiled, mostly in pity. Atlantis studied the napkin in her lap. The winning smile she’d meant to pull off with her words hadn’t come as easily as she expected and the raw wound in her chest bled again.
“Is...is everything under wraps?” She asked, glancing at Marria.
“Yes, damage control has been my main objective over the last sixteen hours. As far as we know, Kale was very drunk last night after you left him. I’ve heard a few things here and there, but just gossip really; half-truths mixed with a healthy dose of precarious opinion. No one seems to really know anything about Dawniria, and though I haven’t checked all of the morning papers yet, it seems that Nicolai Ryder has managed to keep his name clear as well.” Marria reported. “Doctors saw Dawniria late last night. They gave her a herbal supplement to calm her and they have confirmed that she is indeed pregnant.”
“Do you think that Kale will retaliate against her?” Atlantis asked, trying to ignore the sudden pounding tiredness behind her eyes.
“I think it’s a distinct possibility.”
“So do I.” Atlantis agreed quickly.
“He wants Khal Manar, he wants the power of an Emperor, and he sees you as a way to achieve that. Once he finds that this pregnancy has broken that hope, he may try to remove the child from the picture completely.” Marria said, gravely.
“Then our plan to let her leave Khal Manar is good?”
“I think so. She was transported from the palace last night, and is in temporary quarters. Galen hasn’t left her side. He’ll take good care of her.”
“Make sure she’s protected, Marria.”
“I will send an extra contingent of the guard.”
“You know as well as I that Kale operated under the exact heredity laws as we do here. If Kale has, miraculously, avoided getting any other women pregnant, this child will be his first born and his heir.” Atlantis reiterated, not for Marria’s sake, but for the hope of seeing the situation at its entirety.
“From what I understand, Kale’s staff keeps pretty close tabs on that. He hasn’t fathered any other children, to date. Apparently, the reason of the slip with Dawn, was that his staff has been greatly reduced since his arrival here.”
“Makes sense, I suppose. In a weird, twisted way.” Atlantis shook her head.
“How are you going to tell him?” Marria asked.
“Formally; I know he’ll demand an explanation, but first, I actually don’t want to shame him in front of his court, and second, the last thing we need is every bounty hunter from here to Shar Riel looking for Dawniria to bring her to Kale for a price.” Atlantis shrugged it was the best she could come up with on short notice.
“What about the people?” Her eyes searched Atlantis’ face.
“The truth, or as much as they need to know, I suppose. There were tensions before the engagement party. I can’t imagine that is a secret, not with the way the press have been digging for a story. We’ll say those issues were irreconcilable or something to that effect. People understand that.” Atlantis said softly. In her mind she was playing out her imminent meeting with Kale. She wasn’t looking forward to it. “I’ll try to keep Nicolai out of it.”
“It has the makings of a scandal cover up.” Marria observed.
“Possibly, but I never slept with Nicolai Ryder.”
“I suppose that means you didn’t get him pregnant either.” Marria cracked a smile. Atlantis laughed briefly.
“Not that I’m aware of.”
“You never really mentioned that last night. How did it go?” Marria asked softly, testing the waters to see if Atlantis was ready to talk about it yet.
“Well, I doubt it could have gone worse.” Atlantis tried to grimace a smile, but couldn’t look up from her plate. “He accused me of lying to him, which is completely correct. I told him I loved him, but he said he didn’t know me, and that hardly mattered anyway because I was going to be marrying Kale. All in all, not a great conclusion.” Atlantis summed up the mountain of emotion in her simple explanation. She still hadn’t worked through it all herself.
“It will hurt for a while, Lan. Just don’t keep it all bottled up, ok?”
“I won’t.” Atlantis smiled. “I think today would be a good day to go to the temple.”
Kale was trying to stare her down, the disbelief fresh on his face. The last thing he’d expected in an audience with the Empress was for her to be rejecting him outright. It was outrageous. Atlantis held her ground. She tried to keep her stare as even and serious as his, all the while preparing herself for any form of verbal defense that he might offer.
“You really believe what Dawniria told you?” He asked, his fists clenched at his sides.
“She has no reason to lie to me. She is risking not only her career, but her welfare in informing me of what could be considered treason. I do believe her.” Atlantis answered. She could feel anger deep in the pit of her stomach burrowing up at him. She wanted to lash out, but knew it would only spark his temper, and the two would be at war before the end of it.
“It is not my child.”
“What if I could assure you that it is?”
“You can make no such assurances.” Kale answered quickly.
“You know as well as I do Kale, the position that I am in. Any wise ruler would do as I am doing. If I marry you, and it turns out, as is quite likely, that this child is in fact yours, Dawniria’s child will hold the right to the throne of Khal Manar. They may not win in a request to the court, but they will be allowed to contest the passing of the crown from me to my oldest child because I would be linked to your bloodline. They would have rights to certain property of my estate. Not only that, if I may remind you, your empire holds to the same standards. If we marry, Dawniria’s child will have rights in both my empire and yours.” It was the best explanation that she had. It was her absolute defense against him. She wondered how far he would push, and how hard she would need to push back, but at this point, she held to absolute certainty that she and Kale Farharad would no longer be engaged by the close of this meeting.
“You know precious little if you think that what this whore does in her spare time has anything to do with me or whom I will pass my inheritance to.” Kale snapped.
“We are the most powerful people in our kingdoms, yet we are bound by the laws that we create in order to govern. In fact, Kale, you know that it was this very law that protected the throne so that it be passed to you, and not rest in Donatella’s hands as widow of the crown prince.” Atlantis pointed out.
“You really think that all of this is fooling me? I can see this as an elaborate plan right from the start, Atlantis. You told Dawniria to seduce me, to take my attention away from you so that you could pursue your own interests in the form of a commoner. This story of pregnancy, real or imagined is a tool for you to use to drive me from your kingdom. It won’t be that easy, Atlantis. I stopped a war for you, I have that in writing.”
“I understand that the sacrifices you made on my behalf are significant. I can assure you that my people have already begun to draw up a treaty that will heavily favor your kingdom and pay reparations for any damages lost in those negotiations.” Atlantis promised. She refused to delve into the emotional, or in Kale’s case, the delusional. For the most part she was praying he wanted to handle this quietly, discretely even. There was his reputation to think of, however he had always maintained the reputation of a man who loved women, so this would barely be a scandal for him.
“I know about the man, Atlantis; that captain. I have for some time. Yet, for the sake of our great nations and for your reputation I kept that quiet. I suppose now would be the time to make him talk.” Atlantis could hear the threat lying just beneath the surface of his words waiting to strike at her.
“That is over. For the sake of not embarrassing yourself, I suggest that you leave well enough alone.” Atlantis kept her voice calm and her manner dismissive, praying that he wouldn’t call her bluff.
“Even if you refuse to admit it, you are as much a part of this as I am.” His voice was almost resigned.
“We’re not happy, Kale. I’m not even sure if we like one another anymore let alone love each other. We’re different now than we were. Maybe we should consider it a blessing that we weren’t married all those years ago. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life married and miserable, do you?” For the first time, Atlantis softened her voice. She rested her hand on Kale’s sleeve.
“I think I did love you once, Atlantis.”
“I think I did too.” She agreed quickly.
“My marriage to Donatella was a disaster; so much so that I blame myself for her suicide. I could remember what it was like with you, before her and I wanted that again. The most logical reasoning I could come up with was to pick up where we’d left off. Especially considering you were still alone.” The tone of his voice and the look in his eye had changed so dramatically that Atlantis was almost taken aback. It was the first time she’d seen inside Kale since he’d come back to Khal Manar. This was the Kale she cared about. The one she remembered. The one she could possibly have loved. “You probably think that I don’t care about Dawniria, that I used her. Partially that’s true. I think she’s beautiful, I do care about her. I want to speak with her about the baby. I want her to know that she’ll be provided for. I can’t say that I love her, Atlantis. I can’t say that I know what it is to really love someone.”
For a long time Atlantis didn’t say anything. She didn’t know what to say. This side of Kale was rarely if ever put forward and she both didn’t know how to take him, and at the same time didn’t want to say the wrong thing and chase it away for good.
“I think you can learn, Kale. What we had wasn’t so far off.”
“Maybe.” Kale paused and looked at Atlantis in the eye. “I’m going to leave Khal Manar. Today if possible. I believe I’ve overstayed my welcome.” There was a glint of humor in his eyes, a restoration of the Kale she knew a bit better.
“I didn’t want to say anything.” Atlantis returned the joke softly, with a smile.
“Well, I’ve been gone long enough. My Prime Minister has probably organized a coup by now. Tell Dawniria that she has nothing to fear from me. I can’t say I know what the future for our baby means, but, she will be honored in my court.” Kale promised tiredly. “Goodbye Atlantis.” He leaned forward and kissed her forehead.
Atlantis watched him go with Marria by her side.
“I never expected that.” Marria said.
“Me neither.” Atlantis agreed.