I threw my head over the back of the boat for the second time trying to expel whatever was left in my stomach. That infuriating man. Why did he have to be right? I was so hungry! I just wanted to enjoy all that delicious food and now, as we sailed for Alcides’ Natantesachre, which I was told is the Reigning Royals’ Floating Palaces, my stomach could not keep itself contained. That last tray of sliced crunchy bread and soft creamy cheese might have been what set me over the edge, literally. I tried as best as I could not to soil my new clothes. I could only imagine how much worse I’d feel if I’d been confined to what Mia had wanted me to wear! I try to take my mind off my sudden nausea and think back to meeting the Chambermaid just a few hours ago.
As I was busy stuffing some dried figs into my mouth, the door burst open and in bustled a small woman clad in a long apron overtop of a light green dress.
“Milady, Master Kaius has sent me to, Oh for Sea’s sake!” She threw her hands up in a show of surprise. “Master Kaius said you were in disarray, but I don’t know that I was expecting, well all of that!” She gestured wildly at all of me. She shuffled over and grabbed my hand that was reaching for more of the dried figs. “I suppose I should have known you’d be in a ghastly state what with all you have been through.” She yanked me up from couch. “My poor lass, I don’t know how you are still standing after wrestling with that terrible beast. If it had been me, I’d be fish scat by now!” She was pulling me toward the door.
“Mena,” I barely am able to get the name out before she’s practically pulled me through the door.
“Mia, Love. My name is Mia.” She stopped walking as she went on, “Oh look at that, you’ve gone and gotten me thrown off my manners. I was just so surprised. Alright, alright. Let’s get you cleaned up and into some proper clothes. Oh you were going to say something? I’m sorry there Love, I get sidetracked. You’ve just got to reel me back in like a good mariner!” She was talking so fast, I could barely keep up. I don’t know when she had time to catch her breath. I couldn’t even remember what I was going to say. Then I looked at the plate of figs that she tore me from.
“Mia, can we bring some of this food with us? Master Kaius said that I could eat all that I wanted and,”
“Oh my Seas! You must be famished. Oh yes of course. Well leave that food here. While you’re in the bath I will fetch you something tasty and you can eat while I get to work and see what you look like under all that dirt and, well let’s just call it dirt and we can all feel better about it.” She winked as she ushered me out of the Symvoulos’ chambers and back onto the deck. Did she say bath? Oh Seas, I haven’t had a real bath since I was in the orphanage when I was small. The Madame would have us girls all bathe together to save water and soap. She couldn’t stand when we smelt she said. I still believe that was just a way to keep us and Kyria busy while she entertained her guests.
Mia, still holding onto my arm and talking about something to do with ‘Chef’, walked us out of the room. We passed the guard that was posted outside when I first went in with the Symvoulos. I hadn’t noticed before but there was another door on the opposite side to the Symvoulos’ chamber. I was hoping this unusual inobservance wasn’t a permanent side effect from the hit to the head I received from the beast.
Mia was still going on and opened the door to the room right next to the one we just exited.
“This will be your private chamber for the remainder of our journey to Prince Alcides, Milady.” It was the same size as the room Kaius had me in just moments before, I thought certainly this was a mistake.
The curtains were opened wide flooding the room with light. There was a small desk to my left and a wash basin like the one in the other room. I saw a tub in the opposite far corner and a bed, a large and soft looking bed with four tall posts reaching for the ceiling and a beautiful canopy resting on top. It took all I had not to crawl onto that bed. Mia scooted me further into the room and closed the door behind her. Mia was a tiny little thing. The top of her head barely hit my shoulder. Granted, I am taller than most of the women I’ve met but she was especially shrimpish. Even being small, she certainly had a large presence about her. Her personality filled the room as soon as she walked in.
She gently pushed me toward the tub. There was steam rising from the water inside and it smelled of lavender. Mia let go of me and tugged at the blue cloak that was still draped around my shoulders. I instinctively pulled it tighter around me, like it was some type of protective shield. She lowered her hand and her face softened with compassion.
“Milady,” her voice wasn’t busy with words anymore and embodied a more tender tone. “If you would like to keep the cloak for now, well that’s quite all right. The guards have plenty of them and they won’t miss one. How’s about you drape it there on that chair right over there where you can see it. I will step out to get you something to eat and you can undress and get into the tub. I won’t be long.” She patted me on the arm before she dashed out of the room, closing the door behind her. I’m not entirely sure why I wouldn’t let her take the cloak. Perhaps because I felt indisposed, still only in my underclothes. Or maybe it was because the weight of the cloak felt like an anchor. My world was in an upheaval like a sudden storm raging in the sea and my small existence was in jeopardy of being swept away by the unpredictable waves. Or maybe it just kept me warm. No matter why I felt unable to part with the warm blue cloak, I did as Mia suggested and laid it over the chair where I could keep an eye on it from the bath.
I undressed, leaving my underclothes in a small pile at the edge of the tub. I dipped my foot slowly into the water. Although the steam was rising, the water wasn’t unbearably hot. Once both legs were in, I lowered myself into the tub. The combination of the hot water and lavender scents instantly put me in a state of relaxation I had never felt before. It felt like the water was melting away the aches in my muscles I forgot were there along with some of the thoughts I knew I would have to address sooner rather than later. Like the idea I would be competing in some primeval games all for the possibility to become a Princess. A Princess. Of Atlantis. Chosen by the Sea. “Ha!” I laughed out loud. Me, a Princess, the idea was absurd. All the girls in the orphanage had wished, prayed they would be chosen one day to be a Princess. I sunk my body deeper in the tub until my head was under the lavender water, washing away the rest of the ideas that circled my brain.
My head was resting on the lip of the tub when I heard a light knock at the door and in stepped little Mia carrying a covered tray.
“Ah, Milady! You already look like your old self.” I gave her a quizzical look. She shook her head, shutting the door behind her. “Ah you know what I mean! Here I’ve brought you some pickings.” She laid the tray out on the stool next to the tub and pulled off the cover. There were fruits and more cheese and a bowl of olives. I shot my hand out and pulled back some grapes that were together in a bunch attached at the stems. “I wasn’t sure what you liked.” She went to the wardrobe on the other side of the room. I had about four grapes in my mouth and was about to stuff a fifth in.
“Mank ou!” I tried to say with my mouth full. Mia chuckled.
“Or Melcome!” She mimicked. “Well, I see that I might be having to give you some lessons on proper manners and etiquette. But let’s work first on getting that smell off you. I hate to be the one to tell you this Love, but you smell like a dead fish!” She brought a bowl with wash cloths and I smelt rosemary.
“Hmm, I wonder why I might smell like a dead fish.” I murmured after the grapes had made their way down into my belly.
“Oh cheeky little thing! I think that you and I are going to get along just fine Love.” She winked as she picked up the tray and held it out to me. “Here Love, pick out a few handfuls. I’m going to need the stool to sit on while I work on getting that grime off of ya.” My face must have mirrored my thoughts. “Come now, don’t pout. I’m just setting the food over there for a wee bit and then you can go right back to filling your belly. I promise.” It was so strange to think that I could leave the food and expect it to be there when I wanted it again. Not at all what I was used to. On Sarochori, if you had food you didn’t waste it and you certainly didn’t leave any lying around unless it was rotten or poisonous. I relented and picked out another bunch of grapes and a handful of olives. “What an interesting choice of tastes. You like those olives? I myself have never had a taste for them. Too salty.” Mia said as she placed the tray on the desk. I held about five of the golden green orbs in my palm and shifted them around until I had one gripped between my forefinger and thumb. I twisted it about squishing it lightly. They had made my hand a little oily from the residue of whatever solution they were sitting in. Mia came back to sit on the stool she had moved behind me.
“I suppose it’s the saltiness I enjoy. It makes me think of the Sea.” As I looked at the olive more closely between my fingers, Kaius’ face flashed in my mind. That confident smirk and his youthful olive eyes.
“Well I wouldn’t have brought ‘em but when I passed Master Kaius on the way to the kitchen he mentioned that he thought you preferred the olives. He’s an observant one that Master Kaius. Never misses a beat I tell ya.” With that, I popped the olive into my mouth and clamped down with my teeth easily crushing it with the force of my jaw. Although Mia and I might get along, just fine as she put it, I don’t have the same feeling about Master Kaius. “Ah well, to each their own I suppose. Now hold still.” Mia pushed me forward in the tub and started scrubbing the filth along with what felt like my skin off. I felt so uncomfortable having her help me wash and later dress, but she insisted and to be honest, it was nice having a kind voice to listen to. After she was done helping be scrub every last inch of skin and then detangling the seaweed from my hair, she allowed me to dry off while she got more food since I had consumed every last morsel on the first tray she brought.
There was a full-length mirror on the wall near the wardrobe and when I peered into it, I didn’t recognize the figure looking back. My hair was still wet and lying flat and smooth hanging down to my waist, dripping at the ends. My skin was a mix of pinkish-red from Mia scrubbing the 19 years’ worth of dirt and grime away. As I continued to look at what I saw in the mirror, I was reminded of the strange vision or dream or whatever you want to call it, I had when I was unconscious. I tried to remember the face of the woman I saw in that river. The beautiful warrior with the violent scar on her face. As I got lost in the memory, I saw her eyes looking at me again, I don’t know that I noticed it before but they were a vibrant shade of golden brown. Perhaps my mind was adding that detail to the memory rather than it actually being a part of it. The more I thought about it the more confused I felt. I had enough to think about let alone the crazy things my mind made up. I decided to leave the idea alone and explore my new surroundings.
I was peeking into the wardrobe when Mia flashed back into the room.
“Ah, I see you have found your new clothes!” Mia closed the door and laid the new tray of food on the desk.
“My new clothes? Where did they come from?” There were all sorts of things in the wardrobe. Dresses, pantaloons, tunics and more. Some things were hanging while others were folded on the shelves. The top shelf had various hats and the bottom was lined with boots and shoes. If the Symvoulos didn’t have powers to see into the future how did Kaius know to have clothes for me? I pulled out a blue tunic, similar in color to the cloak still draped over the chair at the desk.
“Well I suppose they aren’t exactly ‘new’ or ‘yours’ per say. Master Kaius, you will learn, loves to be prepared. He lives on this ship, sailing about, taking care of the Prince’s affairs and along the way ‘you never know who you might encounter’ he says. You will see that everything in the wardrobe is of varying sizes.” Mia pulled out a pair of the pantaloons that were wide enough to fit one of me in each leg. I was beginning to understand why the common folk came up with some of the stories about the Symvoulos. We are simple people who typically only see things for what they are when in reality there is so much more happening that we don’t pay attention to. “But you see I,” Mia, bringing me back to the conversation, used her free hand to touch her chest, “Am quite the seamstress and can make just about anything fit. The shoes can sometimes be a bit of a problem, but I have my little tricks.” She put the oversized pants back into the wardrobe. “See anything you fancy?” Mia was pulling shoes out of the bottom shelf and lining them up against my naked foot on the floor. I still held the blue tunic in my hands. It looked like it would fit me, the sleeves may be a tad short but the late summer weather was warm so it didn’t seem like it’d matter.
“I like this. The color is nice.” I traced with my finger some gold stitching I found on the seam of the collar and sleeves. Mia had found a pair of brown boots with brass buckles that she must have thought matched up with my foot.
“Oh yes that looks like it’ll fit you just fine. The sleeves are meant to be a bit longer but that’s not a problem. We can just roll them and no one will be the wiser for it. Let us see.” She took the tunic from me and held it up to me, comparing it with my frame. The tunic was very straight and would come to a little bit above my knee. “Well, this tunic will fit your length but the width will look ridiculous. I can only imagine when you last had a proper meal, aside from what you’ve been eating on the ship today that is. You’ll look like you’re wearing a giant blue sack! I’ve got something to help with that until you fill out a bit.” There was a set of drawers in the wardrobe beside the clothes that were hanging. She reached into one of the drawers and pulled out a piece of what looked like black leather. It was rolled up and there were strings hanging from one end.
“What’s that?” I asked as she grabbed at a few smaller white pieces of cloth from the drawer and went to lay out everything she had collected on the bed.
“Come now Love, I’ll show you.” She beckoned me to the bed. She had laid out the blue tunic next to a pair of grey leggings. The white pieces of cloth were laid out and I realized they were under clothes. I guess mine wouldn’t really be of any use now. On the ground were the boots pushed up against the bed and then I saw the piece of leather that was now unrolled next to the tunic. It was shaped like an hourglass.
“That Love, is how we’re going to make it look like the tunic fits you right until I have time to tailor the clothes to your size.”
“What is it?” I reached down to touch the material, the shape looked familiar and I felt like I had seen the Madam wearing something like this before.
“It is something that women invented to make men like them more and other women to like them less.” Confusion spread across my face, however that sounded right up the Madam’s alley. “It’s a corset.”
Mia had me sit in the chair at the desk while she fixed my hair and let me eat what was left of the last tray of food she had brought in. She told me all about her life and occasionally asked me about mine as she braided pieces of my hair. I kept my answers brief and she didn’t seem to mind. When I had finished the last tray, she said it was time to get dressed and join Master Kaius on deck.
Once I had the leggings and tunic on it was time for the leather hourglass that she called a corset to go on. She told me that ladies used these to help give them a more womanly shape. She undid the laces and draped the material across my waist.
“Hold the corset up, Love. I need to tighten the laces in the back now.” I did as she said while she moved around to stand behind me. “Alright, I’ve got the laces. Go ahead and hold on to the bed post there. It will help you keep your balance.” My balance? Why would I need to keep my balance, and that’s when she started pulling at the strings I had seen earlier. She yanked at them quickly and then pulled tighter with more force. The leather around me started closing in on everything from my chest to right above my hip bones. I could feel all the food I had just eaten be stuffed into what felt like my spine and my breathing came in shorter and quicker bursts as the material tightened around my chest.
“Do I have to wear it so tight?” I managed to say as the contraption throttled my abdomen. I dug my fingers into the wood of the bedpost.
“Oh milady, this is not that tight. Trust me, you’ve got another 2 good inches. If you hadn’t polished off that last tray of cheese we might have gotten close to 4.” She said as she continued to pull on the laces. It felt like my ribs were being crushed when I grabbed at my waist and my knees began to buckle. I could feel my head floating and blackness filled my vision as my grip was loosening.
“Hold on there Love, almost done.” She said as she gave another few pulls of the laces.
“Mia.” I tried to get the sound out but the blasted thing around my waste was confining the words. “Mia.” I attempted to say a little louder. Still, she didn’t hear. “MIA STOP!” Finally, I was able to fling the words out at her.
“Love, what’s wrong?” She held the laces in place but wasn’t pulling them tighter. I had to pause after every word to catch my breath again.
“I. Can’t. Breath.” I managed to say. She released one of the laces and I felt an instant relief as air rushed back into my lungs. I inhaled a long breath.
“Oh milady. I am sorry but, this is the way it is to be worn. We must get it as tight as possible so it will hold everything in place.” She explained. Mia kept holding one of the laces which still constricted my midsection but allowed me to speak easier than before.
“What must it hold in place? The last time I checked, everything was right where it was supposed to be.” Mia giggled and while holding the one lace in place moved so she could face me.
“Oh Love. You’ve so much to learn.”
“I think this is one lesson I would be happy not to learn.” My tone became confident and filled with tenacity as I looked her in the eye. “Nor do I think it’s a lesson that anyone should ever have to learn.” Mia gave me a look, as if I had turned into someone she didn’t recognize. I had finally found my voice, and it felt good. I don’t know who this timid child had been a up until now, but I felt like I was waking up. Like I had been stuck in a groggy state of confusion after a restless night. I inhaled deeply, relishing in the feeling after having been constricted by that foul contraption.
“I’m sorry Mia.” I exhaled. “It’s been a long day. I certainly didn’t mean to be rude, you have been nothing but kind to me. But please, don’t make me wear this.” I added my firm plea as I touched the leather still wrapped around my waist. Mia looked at me with sympathetic eyes and released her hold on the remaining lace. My insides shifted back to their original positions and I was able to breath with absolute ease. She helped me to remove the corset in its entirety and I tried my best not to fling the stupid thing across the room.
“Well Love,” Mia placed her hand under her chin in a thinking manner, “how’s about we come to a comprise? You do not have to wear the corset.” She made it sound like that was somehow still an option if I didn’t like the one she was about to give me. “But, that tunic looks absolutely ridiculous. You must wear something over top of if lest you look like you’re in your nightclothes or wearing some bloke’s shirt from last night.” I never found being properly dressed an issue before and as long as I had something over my underclothes I was in good shape. Though I understood what she was trying to say. Being the dirty little alley cat I grew up as wasn’t going to work while I was in the presence of Master Kaius or, when the time came, Prince Alcides.
“So what can I wear that will make me look presentable? And that isn’t a corset?” I glared at the confounded thing rolled up now on the bed.
“Let’s see what we’ve got in the drawers.” Mia went to the wardrobe and pulled out another rolled up piece of leather and unraveled it for me to see. “Here, take a look. It’s not a corset but it does have ties on the back to keep it snug.” My eyes widened. “No, no. It won’t be like the corset. It’s meant to just go around the waist, like a belt. It will only hold the tunic in place and make you look less like a ragamuffin.” She laid it on the bed. It was much shorter than the corset and it had brass buckles on the front similar to the ones on the boots I was wearing, it was even the same color as the boots. “Let’s give it a try and if you hate it, I will stop asking and you can wear whatever you like however you like it.” Mia was really trying to accommodate me which was a strange feeling. I would have to haggle for everything I wanted with no one ever caring to ask what I thought and when I did give my unsolicited opinion, I was told to take it or leave it. Since Mia was being so kind to me, I felt the fair thing would be to try on the belt. For her sake.
“Ok, I’ll give it a try. How do you put it on?” I asked. Her face lit up with excitement.
“Oh good! Alright come here, let’s wrap it around your waist.” I held my arms out of the way while she put the belt on. She checked the buckles in the front to ensure they were fastened. Then she moved around to my back to tighten the laces again. I braced myself this time. “Don’t worry Love, this will not go like the last time!” She must have felt me tense as she gently pulled on the laces. I felt the leather tighten around my waist and right before I felt like I’d beg her to take it off she was facing me again. “There!” She rubbed her hands together as she spoke. “Now that isn’t uncomfortable is it?” The belt was snug, but I could still move and breath with ease. “Why don’t you take a look Love?” She took my hand and pulled me in front of the mirror. I looked at the belt fitted around my waist and saw how it hugged the tunic to fit my frame. It matched the boots quite nicely. Then I looked at the tunic and remembered why I’d picked it, the blue color was like the Ocean. Then I took in the whole image before me. “You look lovely.” Mia said. “Much better than before, when you were covered in Sea knows what. I’m sure you feel lovely too. All clean and a full belly! Why, Master Kaius might not even recognize you!” She was right, I looked nothing like the wretch that walked onto this ship. I had been covered in seaweed, wild and coarse were some of the words I’d use to describe what I saw when I washed my hands in the Symvoulos’ chambers. Now I was clean, hair smooth and adorned in neat braids. My clothes were, well clothes and not rags tattered and worn with age and over use. I felt for the first time, like a person and not a thing.
As I stood now on the stern of the ship, listening to the sailers bark orders at one another I checked myself making sure everything was still intact. I was relieved to find that I was still as clean as when I left the room Mia called mine and headed toward the deck as she told me. She said that the master wanted to see me as soon as she was finished with me. I’ve barely been on this ship a day and he’s already deciding what I do and when I’ll do it. He may be Mia’s master, but I have none. I am interested to see how this meeting goes now that I am no longer in shock and am back to feeling like my old self again, well my old self less the over full belly that, on no! I grip the railing, bracing for the convulsion about to take place in my gut again.
“I warned you not to eat so much.” The inflection of arrogance cut through the sound of my retching like a jagged blade. Thankfully there was no more left to expel. I wiped my forehead with the back of my hand and turned slowly to face the Symvoulos. The man who this morning I thought was going to kill me in secret stood before me, still in his long robes that drug across the floor with his hood drawn covering his surprisingly handsome face. “As I told you, the food on board is a lot more flavorful than what I am sure you are used to. Eating too much too quickly results in, well.” He motioned toward me still holding on to the rail with one hand, sweat beading on my upper lip. I grabbed hold of the railing with both hands behind me to steady myself while willing my stomach to stop churning. Even though I couldn’t see his face with the hood drawn, I could feel him grinning at me with his perfect teeth. I glared at him because I knew that while I couldn’t see his eyes, he could see mine just fine.
“You’re too kind for reminding me of the humble way of life I have been so used to. Don’t forget, I agreed to do this not to be made fun of or poked at because of my less than favorable upbringing. I came because you lead me to believe that not doing so was the worst choice I could make.” I manage to get out before I feel the cool sweat creeping up my neck. I take in a subtle deep breath to calm my nerves and body.
“I can tell you have gotten over the initial shock of your encounter with the Wannapaign. Nevertheless, my apologizes, I meant no offense. Contrary to what you have been taught about my order I do not relish in the suffering of others. And I still believe that you have made the correct choice.” My eyebrow shot up in an expression of skepticism. “Don’t worry,” he added, “the nausea won’t last long. Might I suggest that the next time you enjoy the food aboard you pace yourself and choose the blander items, that is until you have become better acquainted with our delicacies.” I dug my fingers into the railing behind me to contain my irritation.
“Never did I think that one day I would have to get accustomed to delicacies.” I replied.
“I’m sure that soon you’ll be doing many things you never thought you’d do. Hopefully the experiences will have better outcomes than this.” Now I knew he was grinning at me with those piercing eyes. The gurgling in my stomach had finally subsided and I felt safe to step away from the railing now. I pushed myself forward to stand within a few feet of the towering Symvoulos.
“I beg your pardon Master Kaius,” My voice dripped with false esteem. “But why did you want to meet with me?”
“I wanted to see how you felt now that you were able to get cleaned up and give you a brief rundown of our itinerary until we meet the Prince.”
“Itinerary?” I crossed my arms and shifted my feet beneath me to square up my hips. This was the stance I usually took when talking up a marketer on their underwhelming bid for my catch. His stance did not change. His arms were crossed, hands concealed in his oversized sleeves and looking like a hooded statue.
“Yes, a course of actions that we will,” I thrust my chin into the air.
“I know what the word means. I am not a complete idiot.” I may not know anything about history however Kyria did teach me that knowledge was power and encouraged me to learn whatever I could, which was very little. Unfortunately, it would seem that what I have learned has done little to prepare me for what lies ahead.
“There I’ve done it again and offended you. I’m sorry Neri, I will try not to do it again. If there is something I say that you don’t understand please tell me.” I nod my head in agreeance. He continued. “Our itinerary as I was saying will include you being taught some of the better known histories of Atlantis in preparation for your meeting with the Prince.” Oh yes, I remember.
“Right, ‘The best people in all of Atlantis’ isn’t that what you called your trainers?”
“Yes, I did call them that didn’t I?” I could hear the grin on his lips. I had a feeling I was right when I first thought that he was one of these ‘best people’. I felt like having a little fun though. “Well, when will you introduce me to these amazing trainers?” I gestured grandly with my hands.
“I hate to disappoint but you’ve already met one of them.” He removed his right hand from his sleeve and extended it to me. So I was right. I chose to ignore his outstretched arm and shoved my own hands back to where they were folded into my arms. He swiftly placed his hand back into its hiding place in his sleeve. His posture, although unchanged had an air of embarrassment that he tried to cover by quickly explaining, “You and I will be spending the next two weeks learning about the history of Atlantis as a whole and what you will need to expect from the Trials. When we reach Prince Alcides, then you will begin your physical training.” I looked him directly in what I can only assume were his eyes since I could not see them beneath the hood and asked,
“When do we begin?”