Sea and Sky:
Prelude: Affairs of State
Archive: Ask first, please.
Fandom: Modern comicsverse. Sea and Sky series. The previous parts can be found at http://www.offpanel.net/kerithwyn/.
Disclaimer: All characters property of DC Comics. What I have done with them is mine.
Mera watched carefully from the curtained alcove as Garth presented his suggestions to the king. Even from a distance, she could tell that he seemed troubled...but whatever the cause, he was hiding it under the façade of court behavior. Not that he would be inclined to unburden himself to either her or Arthur, in any case.
Garth had declared his intention to expand his ambassadorial duties, to try to forge better relations between the surface world and Atlantis. Arthur agreed, though not without reservations. They'd been deceived before. But in some ways Garth was their best possible envoy; he understood the surface like few others. More important, he would be able to convey the Atlantean point of view without antagonizing the landsmen...a trick Arthur himself had never mastered.
This audience was little more than an official declaration of what had already been agreed to between the king and his ambassador. For the watching bureaucrats and courtiers, it served as notice that Garth of Shayeris was firmly in the king's favor. And that, Mera thought with a measure of satisfaction, was a declaration long overdue. Even if Arthur and Garth associated only as monarch and representative...it was still better than no relationship at all.
"...as you see fit, ambassador," Arthur concluded. "We place the future of our relations with the surface in your hands."
There was a brief silence. Mera frowned, watching. Garth should have replied with formal gratitude for the audience; instead, he stood as if he had more to say. Arthur leaned forward on his throne. "Something else? The councilors grow weary."
"Far be it from me to inconvenience them further. Perhaps we may speak more plainly, privately." Mera's eyes narrowed. Garth's tone hinted at danger if his suggestion wasn't taken seriously. Something Garth didn't want to say in front of the court....
Arthur raised an eyebrow at him, but acceded to the request. "Our thanks for your attendance, gentlefolk, but this *official* audience is now ended."
The assembled court filed out, the babble of reaction rising in a tangle of whispered voices and shouted thoughts. Every word, every motion would be dissected for hidden meanings. Speculation would run rampant about what Garth might say, and why he chose to say it without them hearing.
To be fair her own curiosity wondered the same thing, but she would not linger here unseen, like a spy. Mera moved out of the alcove and took a step to follow the others out. Arthur caught her eye and waved for her to stay. She glanced at Garth, who shrugged and offered her a faint smile. Pale invitation, but enough for her to stop and take a low seat not far from the dais.
Once the last courtier had gone, Arthur fixed Garth with an ironic smile. "Well?"
Garth nodded. "One question, so that I may reassure any who might ask.... You've tried to be a good king? A fair king? Fostered a spirit of tolerance among the people, allowed none to be discriminated against, provided an environment in which all your citizens may live unafraid?"
"Of course." Arthur looked surprised. "Of course I have. Garth, what's--"
Garth spoke again, his expression calm, his eyes fixed on a point just over the king's shoulder. "The Shalakite priests who left me to die still advise your most trusted councilors."
Silence fell across the chamber.
Garth bowed formally and withdrew, not waiting for Arthur's dismissal. Arthur didn't seem to notice. After another soundless moment he rose from the throne, heading toward his own chambers without a glance at Mera.
Mera remained seated, considering. Garth hadn't said anything that wasn't true, even though the implied reprimand to his king had been...impolitic. At best. But then again, he *could* have said what he did in front of the court, which would have caused Arthur considerable embarrassment. And Garth knew that the last thing Arthur's court needed was yet another political scandal.
Clearly, Garth had waited a long time to say those words. The delivery had the sound of practiced rehearsal about it. The words had been shaped like a spear, to strike precisely at the heart of all the tension between the two of them. Arthur's reaction said that Garth's aim was true.
But this was more than a personal issue. The prejudices of the Shalakites extended to the surface world, and if Atlantis was to forge a relationship with the surface, those voices would have to be silenced. Or at least, cast into disfavor. It was long past time to end Atlantis' isolation from the world above; Mera agreed with Arthur and Garth on that point. It would take more than a treaty to make that happen.
Beginning, perhaps, with the relationship between a king and his estranged protégé.
She found him where he sat later, head in hands, the very image of a man in emotional distress. In someone else she would have suspected it as artifice, but she knew he had little need of such melodramatic gestures.
His voice drifted to her, muffled. "I failed him, Mera. I failed him in every way that was possible, as a guardian, as a monarch, as a fath--" he barked out an abrupt laugh, full of self-mockery. "Not that, anyway. I never even tried to be a father to Garth."
"True, my lord."
His head came up sharply at her cool agreement.
Mera didn't allow his piercing look daunt her. "The question isn't what you did or did not do. The question is, what are you going to do about it NOW."
She nodded, letting her distaste show on her face. "I never liked them. I know you respect the people's traditions, their religions. But the influence they wield implies tacit approval of their beliefs."
"I never meant-- gods, Mera, I let them dictate policy. What that must have said to Garth...." He stood, pacing the chamber.
"What it said to Garth," Mera said calmly, "was that you never thought about it. You made it clear from the beginning that you never considered him a son." She paused. "And to be honest, if we're telling honest truths...I was quietly pleased for that, then. Because it meant he would never have a claim to the throne, would never become a rival to-- to our own son."
Arthur started, shaken. "Mera...."
She shook her head, blinking away incipient tears. "We were speaking of Garth. Not only that you didn't consider him a son, but that you didn't consider him at all. What he might need. ...And I was no better," she added, "because I *saw* what was happening, and did nothing to help him. Not even when Tula asked me what might be done."
Mera gestured impatiently. "Of course she did. She saw how little most of our fair citizens cared for him then, that many of them would have seen him exiled again. A few of them still would, even after all this time. So, again: what are you-- no." She smiled. "What are WE going to do about it, now."
His face lit up. "'We'?"
She knew what he was asking, and wasn't ready to answer him. Yet. "In this, at least, I have amends to make as well."
Arthur nodded, clearly disappointed but choosing not to push. "We can't very well decree that everyone play nice from now on. Much as I'd like to, I can't outlaw the Shalakites; that would lead to a religious war."
"You can," Mera suggested gently, "support in council Garth's position as ambassador to the surface, and the fact that he speaks for all Atlantis." She took a deep breath. "You can also officially designate him as heir to the throne, until such time as...as you name another. He is no Koryak, to try to steal it from you."
Mera blinked, startled. She had been so sure.... "After all this time, you don't trust him? You don't think he's worthy?"
Arthur shook his head. "I do trust him. And he's eminently worthy. But Mera...he's refused his own throne. What makes you think he'd want mine?"
She stared at him.
He smiled grimly. "I may have been a poor guardian in the past, but I'm done with leaving burdens I don't want to deal with at his door. Garth doesn't *want* the throne, any throne. Besides, he's made a life for himself on the surface. He's happy there with his team and his friends. I won't take that from him."
And here she'd been so concerned for Garth's well being that she'd completely forgotten to consider what *he* might want. But Arthur hadn't. "I... I misjudged you."
"I've given you cause." He looked for all the world like a little boy, lost amid a sea of responsibilities too large for him. That very same look had drawn Mera to him years ago and had no less effect on her now.
She crossed the room to him and took his hands in her own. "I thought of your kingdom. You thought of *him.* It is a noble intent." She could see it, too. For duty's sake Garth would have accepted the "honor," and dreaded the day he was called on to fulfill it. But as long as Arthur had no legitimate child to follow him on the throne, Garth was still the most logical choice. She appreciated Arthur's concern for his happiness, and that was a concern she shared--but duty was duty, and Garth understood his. Perhaps if there were a reason for Garth to consider Poseidonis his home again, something to draw him back, he might find the duty less burdensome. She'd have to give that some thought.
Mera stared down at their joined hands, not entirely wanting to ask the next question but feeling compelled nonetheless. "Not to be crass... but if not Garth, who *is* your heir?
Arthur looked at her, surprised, as if he expected she should have known the answer all along. "You are."
"Me? But I'm not... we're not..." She closed her lips briefly over her shock and started again. "I'm honored...but is that wise? I'm not of the city or even this world, I have no claim on the throne."
Arthur spoke easily enough, though she could see his restraint. "You've ruled here before. The people know you, they learned to love you. And I know you would care for the city to the best of your ability."
"I would," she conceded softly. "May it never come to pass."
Arthur lifted her hands to his lips for a brief kiss, releasing them before she could protest. She wasn't altogether sure she would have. She wasn't his queen any longer, the old passion between them had gone cold in the years of anger and heartache between them. But that didn't mean they couldn't, perhaps, find a new understanding. Given time.
She took a few steps away, trying to regain her composure. As far as she was concerned, Arthur's solution was only a temporary one. *If* someday she and Arthur reconciled...perhaps naming Garth to the throne would not be necessary. But for right now there were more pressing matters to attend to.
Mera cleared her throat and ordered her thoughts. "In...in any case, you might some kind of gesture to Garth. He stated his desire to truly *act* as ambassador--grant him the leeway to do so. And leave him to do that work in peace."
Arthur nodded, watching her. "And the priests?"
She shrugged. "Talk privately with the councilors. Let them know such attitudes are out of royal favor." She paused, thinking. "I'm still on good terms with several of them. If you wish, I could...invite some friendly discussion. That might be more effective than an official suggestion. Let them think it was their own idea."
"You always had a better mind for strategy." Arthur smiled ruefully. "I've...missed your subtlety."
"I'd be pleased to help where I can," she told him warmly. "Atlantis is my adopted home. I want to see it become the great world power it should be."
"Then...if you're willing, I would like to call on you. For suggestions and so on," he added hastily. "You're already familiar with the issues facing the kingdom, and it's...nice to talk to someone who isn't trying to promote her own agenda."
Mera had to smile at his plaintive tone. "At your convenience, my king."
He frowned, obviously thinking she'd misunderstood, and she relented. "Of course I'd be happy to discuss things with you, Arthur. We're still friends, after all."
"Friends. Right." Arthur grinned, sly amusement at the corner of his eyes. "It's a start." He headed for the door, seeming pleased to have gotten the last word.
"It's a start," she agreed softly, and followed.
Storyline to be continued briefly in "Revelations and Conversations" and overtly in "Affairs of State" by Elay, both posting soon.