'So who is this family we're staying with Sir?' asked Atlas as she finally allowed herself to lower her cowl and reveal her face to the high midday sun that shone through the cars windows. Her words wrapped in the tight air of formality as Dante and Phaedos are in the car with them. Sitting in the back felt uncomfortable to Elseron, he would have much rather been in the front...but Atlas was more comfortable with him beside her. At least she said that. Whether she meant it was something completely different. What? Of course she means it! He bellowed to the insecure worried part of his psyche.
'Old friends of mine your Majesty, Elvernoi and I were close once. And she has allowed her use of her personal Atlantean guards who I trained personally and her home to use as a safe house for a time.'
'And her husband?' she asked. Honey eyes melting away the defensive walls he had put around himself to shield her from the truth.
'I didn't have the pleasure to see Jaime but Lady Oaken has assured me her husband will be most welcoming.' Dante looked at him in the interior mirror. I know I'm lying Dante...thank you. A soft hand gripped his as Atlas smiled at him. 'My Queen?' he whispered.
'You look nervous...you're never nervous.' her smile faltered. 'Is there something I should know before we enter their home Els.' her new nickname for him hung in the air between them, a small symbol of the love they shared. You should know so many things my Little Princess.
'Just know that we are welcomed...if you still have questions I will answer them tonight Princess.' squeezing her hand Atlas seemed content enough with his answer smiling at him, a soft, loving, sad little smile. She knew he was hurting...but she knew there was nothing she could do but be there for him. He wasn't worried that they would be turned away...Elve never went back on her word. He was worried about what she would say to Atlas. How she would react upon seeing her. And then before he thought to even blink, they were pulling up to the walls of the house beside the little guard post with a different human sitting behind the holo-screens. Rolling down his window Elseron nodded to the guard.
'Good day sir,'
'Good day. Lord and Lady Oaken are expecting us.' the guard nodded before pointing to the camera. Once again Elseron held his axe from the window, and once again the gates slid open for them. 'Lord Jaime Oaken is a distant relative of your family my Queen,'
'I have never heard the name.' she said staring out the windows at the grand manor house as Dante drove up the driveway towards the fountain.
'Which is why I'm telling you know your Majesty, this fact is Jaime's pride and joy. Act like he is important and we should have no troubles with him,'
'And Elvernoi?' she asked looking back to him. Oh my Princess...must you be so smart?
'Elvernoi was raised at court in a high ranking political family, just use your manners and she will quickly warm to you.' he smiled. Spirits be good please let her control herself. Pulling up outside the steps Elseron bound out of the car, quickly running around the back to open Atlas's door for her. She elegantly exited the vehicle as, just as last time, a guard took the keys from Dante and drove the car around to where they were stored. Atlas walked up the steps with all the grace of the Queen she was, head held high, back straight, hands gently clasped together with the swirls of her dress swishing with soft ruffles as she walked. Elseron walked closely behind her, Dante and Phaedos a step behind him. The house wasn't as dim as he remembered when he followed his Queen into the grand foyer, maybe it was because it had been night? Now the room was as bright and colourful as a royal peacock, a formal welcome party assembled for Atlas including over thirty Atlantean guards he had helped train, and three Royal Knights he had trained personally. Jaime Oaken stood at the foot of a grand staircase that lead to the second floor of the mansion.
He was still tall and whip thin with gray peppering his dark hair and small wrinkles beginning to appear around the corner of his eyes and lips, he wore a plush silk doublet of roaring emerald green with its large sleeves slashed with white velvet. His clothing showed just how long he had been away from Atlantis; nobody at court wore anything like that anymore. Atlas however was forever the Queen and any shock she had of her cousins ostentatious outfit was hidden well beneath her plastered smile. Spreading her arms she jogged to him. 'Cousin!' she said happily as they embraced briefly. 'It has taken us far too long to finally meet!'
'A mistake I intend to make up for during your stay here your Majesty. I know somewhat of your situation and know you would like to keep your visit here quiet, it is so very difficult for a member of the Royal House to get a vacation is it not?' Jaime said kissing her on each cheek briefly. Atlas's smile faltered for the briefest of moments before her brain kicked into action.
'My Fathers loss was sudden and took a great deal from me...I needed just a few weeks to recover.' she said her voice mimicking sadness and grief so well Elseron almost believed her.
'My home is yours your Majesty, you are family and anything me or my men can do for you to ease your grief will be a great honour.'
'Thank you Lord Oaken your words...' in a less outlandish gown of black velvet slashed with red silk Elve walked down the stairs into their small reception, her eyes boring into Atlas with uncomfortable ferocity before they drifted quickly over Dante and Phaedos and finally hitting Elseron as she reached the bottom step. Atlas saw her lateness for the slight it was but continued with barely a pause. 'Mean a great deal. If it please my lord I would like to introduce you to...'
'Sir Elseron!' Jaime said with a cold rip to the end of his words. 'A pleasure to finally meet you after so long...and hearing so much about you.'
'The pleasure is all mine Lord Oaken,' Elseron said with a bow.
'I'm sure.' he quipped.
'Mind your tone cousin,' said Atlas sharply, her own protective instincts for him firing against her skin. 'Sir Elseron is my Guardian and one of my most loyal friends,'
'I'm sure he is your Majesty,' said Elve stepping through her throng of armoured guards to reach Atlas, even through the clanking of metal, Elseron heard her undertone of sarcasm. And so did Atlas. 'Elseron has forever been a loyal man, to some people more than others.' her smile was venomous. 'I am Elvernoi Oaken, Lady of this manor. And I just want to say how much of a pleasure it is to have you in our home.'
'Please your Majesty if you would follow me I will show you to your accommodation. The whole left wing has been given over to you and your...erm...entourage.' said Jaime looking over to Dante and Phaedos. Raising an arm to her Jaime stood in wait, Atlas looked to Elseron before he nodded her onwards.
'I would be a pleasure.' she said looping her arm through his, trying not to look at Elve as her hard green eyes swept over her face again and again.
'Go with her.' said Elseron to Dante and Phaedos as the small pack broke off down one of the adjoining corridors beneath the staircase. Soon Elseron and Elve were alone in the foyer by the open doorway to her manors grounds.
'She is pretty,' said Elve looking out the door.
'What was that!' he said shaking in rage. 'Do you wish to alienate her Majesty in the one place I told her would be safe from enemies?'
'Oh hush! I am not your enemy Elseron, I never have been. You do that job enough for anyone. I was just curious on how the baby you had sworn to protect had grown...she reminds me of her. She even looks like her.'
'Enough!' he yelled. His voice cracking with the pressure of the great shout. 'You will not mention her in the presence of her Majesty.'
'You've not told your precious princess about the woman who held the heart of the Stalwart Shield,' she looked at him frankly. 'How dull.'
'Elve do not make this harder than it has to be, we said everything we needed to last night. I'm sorry I never loved you...I know you resented her because she was the one I loved...but please...don't take a century’s worth of anger and resentment out on Atlas...please.' he said looking her in the eyes. Suddenly her eyes softened her face dropping.
'You still love her don't you...even now.' it was a statement more than anything else.
'I loved her from the moment I laid eyes on her. Death doesn't change that.' walking away from Elve Elseron let his feet take him through the mansion. He wasn't even sure where he was going...but he knew...somehow they would take him to Atlas. And they did. Phaedos and Dante stood outside her door.
'She's in here waiting for you sir.' said Phaedos with a worried look. Elseron nodded.
'Dante check the grounds, Phaedos organise all of the Oaken's personal guard and access them. Its been many years since they left Atlantis...I want to know if they're rusty.'
'Yes sir.' Phaedos said as they left him. Breathing deep Elseron prepared himself for a hard conversation. 'Princess.' he said walking in.
'Shut the door Elseron.' her tone was cold. Even the use of his full name cut through him like a knife, he did as was bid before walking over to the fireplace she sat in front of and sat himself down in the arm chair across from her. She was sat with her legs crossed, foot twitching from side to side, one arm across her stomach, the other resting her head onto the arm.
'I'm sorry you had to see that Princess.'
'It certainly wasn't as polite as I was expecting.' hand brushing his axe Elseron waited for her to speak, but she just stared at him.
'Do you wish to know my Princess?' he asked softly.
'Only if you wish to tell me.' laughing dryly Elseron ran a hand through his greasy white locks.
'And you won't think any less of me?' the question sounded so childlike, so much so it made Atlas look at him differently.
'Nothing you can say to me will make me think any less of you Els.' she smiled reaching over the gap and touching his hand with hers. Oh my Little Princess...if you only knew. Wrapping his hand around hers Elseron sighed.
'Elvernoi and I were to be wed once, over a hundred years ago now. She was young and beautiful, I was a century older and rising quickly through the Royal Knights. On paper it was a brilliant match.'
'So what happened?' I was madly in love with a woman I couldn't have.
'I...I didn't feel the same way about Elvernoi...she was barely in to adulthood, she was in love. My family wanted the marriage, not me. So when the King offered me the position of High Commander and the personal guard of his child...I called the wedding off.' Atlas's eyes widened.
'You didn't marry her...because of me?' No my darling Princess no! For one mad instant he felt like telling her everything, but no...she couldn't know...she could never know.
'I didn't marry her because I did not love her. Nothing more and nothing less. My appointment as your Guardian was used by the gossips in Court as a scapegoat, saying I was looking for the quickest way out of the engagement,' Elseron barked a dry hoarse laugh. 'Maybe I was...I don't know.'
'That doesn't sound like you Els...do you...do you regret your decision?' She asked sounding sheepish, her hand tensing at the severity of her question, as if she just realised how his caring of her had affected his life. He looked up at her, his icy eyes clashing into her warm honey brown.
'Not a day in my life.'