The sun was shining across Atlantis' face. It made her feel warm and comfortable, relaxed. She actually couldn't remember the last time she felt so relaxed. Come to think of it she couldn't remember what had happened for the last several hours. She could remember putting on her wedding dress, and walking with Andoran to the great hall, she could remember the guests, and then it got fuzzy. Really really fuzzy, in fact, she could remember taking a ceremonial drink from the priest, and that was when things got fuzzy. She opened her eyes languidly, and looked around. She was in her own chambers, and a fresh breeze was coming in through the open window, it was cool, like it had been raining. Strange sounds were floating through the window, there was of course the regular commotion she could hear of traffic in the city, and the sound of the waves on the shore, but they were interrupted by the crash of a hammer, and the scream of an electric saw. Atlantis pulled herself up into a sitting position. The door nearest to her bed opened quietly, by the hand of someone who seemed to know every creak, every groan, avoiding them in order to allow the Empress a few more moments of peace. Am I still the Empress? Marria closed the door quietly behind her, and Atlantis' heart leaped in her throat."Marria." Her voice cracked, her throat dry. She smiled.
"Good you're awake. The doctors will be able to stop pacing outside your door." Marria said, her tone light and matter-of-fact.
"You're alive." Atlantis was filled with relief and pleasure all in the same moment, as if she had just awakened from a bad dream. Marria sat on the edge of her bed, and reached for her hand.
"I am." She said, "How are you feeling?"
"A bit dizzy, forgetful..."Atlantis mused tiredly.
"I would expect that. The doctors weren't exactly sure if he'd given you a sedative, or a poison. They'll be happy to hear if it was poison, it didn’t work."
"The priest?" Atlantis questioned.
"Yes, he's been arrested. He still claims that Andoran is the true Emperor, and you are an imposter."
"I see." Atlantis paused, considering her words. "And what does Andoran say?" She asked. Marria paused, narrowed her eyes for a moment, and looked down. She bit her lip, falling into a moment of ponderous silence.
"He's dead, Atlantis." Silence echoed around the room.
"When Andoran attacked the Ryderron Prince, he had no choice but to defend himself." Marria assured her.
"He was behind it all, Marria." Atlantis agreed. "He planned the whole thing." Her face betrayed what she was thinking. It hurt her, that a man she had loved and trusted could turn against her so completely.
“There are several documents confirming that, and once we arrested Lord Tryst, he corroborated the plan.” Marria said, shaking her head.
“I hear I’m betrothed.”
“You are.” Marria said softly, her gaze shifting out the window.
“Have you met him?” Atlantis asked, trying to be conversational instead of nervous. She wanted to ask a million questions, but a fresh ache of her shattered feelings for Nicolai held her back.
“What is he like?”
“I think you need to meet him.”
"I'm just trying to find out a little bit about him." Atlantis studied her hands. They seemed cold, dry for the warm weather, she could feel her stomach turning over.
"He's a good man, Atlantis. He’s already asked me to let him introduce himself to you. I can't refuse him that. Besides you need to hear about him without my biased opinion." Marria smiled.
"Have you seen Nicolai? I mean, Captain Ryder?" The question was practically burning at the edge of her lips. She assumed he'd been a part of her rescue, but she hadn't seen him. Part of her was afraid of what he would say to her, but part of her wanted to see him again, badly. Maybe it was just to remember that what they had wasn't a figment of her imagination. A happening so long ago, it almost amounted to ancient history. The pause on Marria's face dropped Atlantis' stomach to her toes.
"He's gone, Atlantis."
"I...know, I mean... I understand."
"When you're feeling ready get up, get moving again. Being stuck in that bed can't be good for anyone." Marria encouraged with a smile pulling at her lips. Atlantis nodded slowly, unsure if she would ever want to get out of bed. The world she was facing was now, was so different.
Eventually getting out of bed became a necessity. She hated it when doctors fussed over her, and with the amount of their fussing, it was the only thing that she could do to prove to them that she was more than healthy enough to take care of herself. When they finally believed her, they left her alone and she relished it, even if it was only momentary. Marria bustled in.
“Prince Horatio is wondering if you’re feeling up to sharing dinner with him.” Marria requested. Atlantis’ face fell. She sighed.
“Perhaps not today, Marria....I...” She started, but was stopped by the look on Marria’s face. ”What?”
“It’s not going to be easier tomorrow, Atlantis.” Marria advised, going into Atlantis’ closet.
“I’m not ready for this, Marria. I’ve never been ready for this.” She buried her face in her hands, and rubbed her tired eyes.
“You’re the Empress, Atlantis. You were born ready.” Marria emerged with a simple gown.
“I feel like I’ve been gutted, Marria, and now I’m supposed to jump right into marriage again? It’s...it’s not fair.” She protested.
“I know you feel that way, Atlantis. I know that. But just because the past has been bad, doesn’t mean the future will be.”
Atlantis wasn't sure if she could eat, but as she chose a simple gown, and had Anya brush her hair she forced herself to relax, to try her very best to be calm and collected. It wasn't easy. This was the man she was expected to marry, had been expected to marry since the time she was an infant. It was a marriage arranged and approved by her father, and grandfather, and she only hoped that she could live up to their expectations. Marria came and got her precisely on time, and Atlantis nearly cursed her punctuality. She tried stalling for a few minutes, but it seemed a fruitless pursuit. Marria smiled at her, reassuringly."This isn't an execution." She reminded Atlantis gently.
"No, executions are easier." Atlantis muttered, but out of earshot of Marria. A lecture wasn't worth it. The sun was just sinking behind the distant hills, and it almost reminded Atlantis that this was her favourite time of day. More than anything else she wanted the chance to clear the air, to get everything off of her chest, if she was going to marry this man he was going to hear about everything - then he could decide whether or not she was marriage material. He wasn't there when she arrived, and she was drawn to the balcony, the sun was sinking low over the water, the oranges and reds of the fading sun stretched their long fingers down into the rippling water. She lost herself in it, for a minute, maybe longer. She was thinking about Nicolai. She wasn’t sure if she was ready to put Nicolai behind her, to start something with someone new. Starting again was overwhelming. It was all happening quickly, so quickly, she sucked in a deep breath.
“My lady.” Atlantis turned. A servant stood with a small white envelope on a silver tray. “For you, Lady, from Prince Horatio.”
“Thank you.” Atlantis reached for the note. The script was familiar.
It’s strange, this relationship of ours. If it would have been as my Grandfather wished, then I would know you by now. We would have been friends as children, and perhaps as we grew we would have eventually fallen in love with one another. It would have been a respectful kind of love that comes with familiarity, and perhaps romance would be difficult between us, as our duty to each other and our families would have taken precedence. But, the truth of it is, that falling in love with you was as easy as breathing, because you are everything I ever wanted. I love you, Laina - Atlantis Talerian.
The note floated to the floor.
“Nicolai.” Atlantis whispered to herself, trying to understand. Her head jerked up, noticing a person, waiting just at the corner of her vision.
“Hi.” The drawl was familiar, gentle. Atlantis turned to look at him fully, her brows pulled together. Her eyes glanced over him, her heart pounded as she drank him in.
“You...you look different.” She said, softly.
“Yeah,” Nicolai gave a small, half-laugh, as he brushed his hands over the dark navy of his new, perfectly tailored suit, adorned with Ryderron insignia. “To me too.”
“It’s nice.” Atlantis smiled, encouragingly.
“I suppose I could get used to it, if it means you’ll have me.” He tucked his hands in the pockets of his pants, and and smiled at her.
“Will you have me?”
“I’m a little intimidated.” Nicolai shrugged, he smiled again.
“I guess we’ll have to work on things, just like everyone else.” Atlantis agreed, letting him take her hand. Her stomach did a happy little flip, as he eased his arm around her waist, and drew her close.
“I’m ok with that. I love you.” His free hand traced her jaw, tucking a long tendril of hair behind her ear, twining his hand into her hair. Butterflies tickled over her skin, as he bent to kiss her, long and deep.“I love you, Nicolai Ryderron.” Atlantis whispered, and floated away.
And so it goes,
The Princess and her Prince
Live Happily Ever After
They never expected.