Atlas, by rhetoric
Word count: 1,519
When she opened her eyes, she was in an unfamiliar room with red silk sheets tucked snugly around her shoulders. She sat up quickly, urgency rushing through her like a gust of wind. She felt disoriented, her thoughts foggy and undefined; she struggled to remember how she had gotten into this strange room. Once her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she looked over at Elseron and felt peace. Wherever she was must be safe, if he were sleeping in a recliner beside the bed. She rose from the bed, her movements slow and quiet; careful not to wake her Guardian. She knew how little sleep he would be getting while they were in the outer-world. Once she reached the door, she peered back at him with the grin of a clever child.
Un-beckoned, memories of her childhood flooded her and she remembered with vivid clarity how she’d spent much of her childhood attempting to sneak away from his constant watch – simply to see if she could. It occurred to her, then that she’d never once been able to – until just that moment. Her grin widened. She grabbed her hip satchel that set on the table beside the door, and pulled the door closed silently behind her.
In the hallway she was bombarded with sounds and smells that she’d never experienced before. She was almost certain someone was cooking; it must have been spices that perfumed the air – she couldn’t think of anything else that would smell so wonderful. She could hear muffled voices underneath the notes of music being played. She followed her nose down the long, strange hallway until she found a large, open living space lit up with candles and wall lights. Fewer than half a dozen people milled about in the room, whispering and giggling amongst themselves as one of them manned a small kitchen station in the far left corner.
To her sadness, her presence sent a ripple of silence through the room. Her eyes scanned the faces of the humanoids present, and though she did not recognize two of them, there were two very distinct faces she knew well. A smile ate up her face instantly and she didn’t attempt to control herself as she cried out with joy, “Finneous! Caliope! My loves, it has been too long!”
She had no sooner made it halfway across the room that both of her long-time friends collided with her, the three each hugging the others with joyful abandon. She felt the warm kisses of Caliope on her cheek, the subtle rustling of the hair on her neck as Finneous’ gills pushed carbon dioxide out of his body. His voice said, “My Queen, how good it is to see you.” Caliope was crying, her smile wide and gleeful, her big sea-green eyes wet with the tears she had yet to shed.
“My sweet child, my Queen,” she murmured, her fingertips stroking Atlas’ cheek as they pulled away from each other to inspect the damage of time.
Atlas shook her head, smiling, saying, “Oh, stop it, Caliope. I’m still the same Atlas you’ve always known.”
When Finneous’ eyes suddenly darted to Caliope’s, Atlas wondered if her small statement had said too much. The worried, knowing glance between them told her it had. She wanted to ask what they knew, but it was not the time. She peered over their shoulders at the rest of the people gathered. The cook stood stock still, a frying pan in one hand, his eyes wide with something that resembled horror. A woman with wild red hair sat upon a couch, her feet propped up on an ottoman, her chocolate eyes moving over Atlas again and again, as if memorizing every little detail.
Atlas made a mental note to inform Elseron of the woman.
To Finneous and Caliope, she said, “Who are your guests?”
As they always had in her presence, Finneous’ immaculate manners left him fumbling to recover from his lapse. “My apologies, my Queen,” he began, his hands gesturing about the room, “May I introduce my very good friend, Phaedos Elias, and the only remaining guest in our establishment since word of your arrival, Miss Sade Owens.”
Atlas’ gaze lingered on Sade, and she allowed herself to study the woman as obviously as the woman had studied her. Her face stoic, her eyes distant; she judged the woman to be roughly twenty-seven, a hundred and sixty pounds, and perhaps an even five-foot-seven. Her eyes gave most of her personality away, but it was her intentions that Atlas sought. The purse of her lips said envy, the strict posture of her shoulders said forced pride.
She deliberately looked nowhere but upon Atlas, which told Atlas even more.
It wasn’t Atlas that Sade was after, it was Phaedos – Atlas was merely in the way. Her grin was knowing when she finally let it pull at her lips, and her voice was calm and easy when she spoke, “Miss Owens, it is a pleasure to meet you.”
Before Atlas’ eyes were able to make the full shift from Sade to Phaedos, a voice from behind her disrupted the polite exchange. Elseron said, his tone hard and calculating, “I think Miss Owens should retire to her quarters.”
“It is fine, Elseron; I am interrupting the gathering, not the other way around. Miss Owens should only retire to her quarters when she deems it the appropriate time to do so.” With the familiar grace of royalty, she inclined her head toward the woman in a modest bow, as if in apology. She turned to her Guardian, offering him a comforting smile, and said, “Now that you are awake, Elseron, I have nothing to concern me.”
His eyes were as hard as his tone had been, and she wondered if she had offended him. There was something about the way he looked at her that told her part of his irritation was that she’d dared to come exploring without him, that she never should have had to feel a moment of concern at all. She refrained from rolling her eyes, and continued, figuring that if she’d already done so she might as well finish off the topics she knew would only serve to elicit the same response. “Have you paid for our accommodations?”
The emptiness of his expression was the answer to her question, but Elseron spoke anyway. “That is a trivial matter, my Queen; we have other things to attend.”
She ignored the cold, detached way he addressed her, knowing it was only because he was upset, and turned to Finneous. “Our quarters are quite lovely,” she said, her voice warm and soothing. She reached into her satchel and pulled out three of the gleaming coins from Atlantis. “I’m afraid I only have Atlantean currency, but it should be worthy of a substantial amount in an exchange.” She held out the coins, attempting not to look at the smiling face of her father upon them.
Finneous moved swiftly to one knee, his head bowed in respect, his voice thick with emotion. “My Queen, there will never be an exchange. I am honored but to be given such precious Atlantean currency.” She dropped the coins into his palms and gently let her hand rest upon his head in silent understanding and appreciation.
“You are a true Atlantean, Finneous,” she said, “if not by blood, then by heart. You have shown me great kindness and welcome in your world, and you should know that Atlantis will always have a place for you, should you ever be in need of it.”
From the small kitchen area, Phaedos’ voice broke through the stillness of the moment. “Would the Queen like to sit and eat with us?” His voice was even, careful, but Atlas could tell that he was pushing himself into a politeness he was unfamiliar with. She supposed he had not interacted with a Queen before, and the thought amused her. She fancied the idea of having him squirm, if for no other reason than how strange and foreign the behavior would be to witness. She was so used to the perfect manners of Atlanteans that she thought it might be nice to be treated normally by someone who did not understand the manners of Atlanteans.
She smiled at him as if he had done everything correctly, and said, “That would be most gracious of you, Sir Elias. If it is no trouble, I would be most happy to join you for a meal.”
It was not until her honey eyes lifted to meet Phaedos’ sapphire blue gaze that she realized how striking he was. Her smile faltered for an instant, but she was certain Elseron would notice. She dropped her gaze from Phaedos’ and cursed herself inwardly for her slip-up; moving herself casually toward a small table set against the wall beside the kitchen.
She pulled out her own seat, quickly – before Elseron could make his way over and do it for her, as Phaedos set a large pot upon the table. He said, without waiting for her to look at him, “You may call me, Phaedos, your highness.”