The crowd chanted: APOLOGIZE TO KIDA! APOLOGIZE TO KIDA! APOLOGIZE TO KIDA!
Citizens held up various makeshift signs made with wood, parchment or cloth and painted with dye:
KIDA COME TO YOUR SENSES
DOWN WITH MILO
TAKE MILO'S CRYSTAL BACK
GO BACK TO THE SURFACE WORLD, MILO
KIDA FOR QUEEN, MILO FOR CORPSE
It was a cacophony of noise; chants, boos and shouts. If there were any cheers they were inaudible. Milo saw movement in the corner of his eye and just like that, fruit splattered in his face, thrown from someone on the right side of the crowd. A few people laughed and Milo resisted the urge to show anger or sadness.
Now was the time to bow his head and go down on his knees, metaphorically of course. And in order to continue living, he had to successfully convince the city of Atlantis that he had some kind of mental condition. To keep his throne he would also have to convince them that he could still be a King with his affliction.
In all of his time in Atlantis, Milo had not heard any mention of mental disease. Now that he was thinking about it, it would be interesting to study mental illness in Atlanteans and their views on it. It was a new and exciting study, mental illness, back when he lived in Washington, D.C. and he had read about it often before he went on the expedition. However, Milo had no idea how they would react to their leader having a mental illness; it could be looked down on. Perhaps if it was a surface affliction they might be able to accept it more readily. Or perhaps he could think of something else entirely. He looked for Beatrice's face in the crowd but he couldn't find her.
"Good morning, citizens. I am going to make a few announcements about things that are personal to myself and to Kida. Last night I made a complete fool of myself, that is undeniable. I would firstly like to apologize for that. Secondly, I lied to you, which is even worse. I said that there is brothel, if you will, in the hospital where unconscious women are sold to men so that men can have intercourse with them."
He swallowed. The crowd was uncomfortably quiet.
"The reason I said this when it was not true is that what I did to Kida was horrible and I wanted a better reason for why I did it so that I would hurt her feelings less. My guilt made me not think properly and it drove me to make up a harmful lie. I am very sorry and if you can't forgive me, I understand. If you want to throw things at me, I will also under-"
Flying through the air, missiles of fish, bread, rocks, sticks, fruit and vegetables struck Milo's face. Kida stepped in front of him and in seconds the deluge ended.
And then, the inevitable. The lack of sleep, the beatings, the public humiliation, the anguished search for Kida, saying goodbye to Beatrice, the nurse's concoction, the rape attempt, it all closed in on him... A wave of calm enveloped him as his joints released the weight of his body. The room went dark, gasps filled the air, darkness...
Milo's mind was a haze as he opened his eyes to find himself on Kida's bed for the first time in months. It was nightfall so he had slept all day. The crippling tiredness was gone but he still ached almost everywhere. He craved more sleep but what he wanted more was to know what happened. Did he faint?
Kida appeared in the doorway. She'd been waiting around outside all day.
"Milo... you're awake! I'm so glad you're okay." She sat on the bed and hesitantly kissed him on the cheek.
"Did I faint?"
"I'm afraid so. We had to leave after that. The crowd was... not happy. They don't trust you. I tried to pacify them but it was no use."
"What you said to them, is that true?"
He thought for a moment and knew a moment was too much, "yes."
"Why didn't you tell me earlier?"
This he definitely had to think about. It was hard to keep all the lies straight. How did it come to this? He used to be sickened by treachery, people like Rourke. He thought he still was. Now he was doing the lying. Even if it meant his life, if he expected to fix his relationship with Kida, he had to stop lying.
"Okay, no, it was lie," Milo looked at his feet, "if you want to throw things at me, I will-"
Kida threw a goblet at him, daggers in her eyes.
Milo sighed, "I need to stop saying that."
"How do I know what the truth is if you lie so often? Should I believe this or is it another lie?"
"Fair questions. Alright, this is the truth because I couldn't dream of being capable of making this up." Milo tells her everything that went on with the guard in the hospital but he doesn't have the guts to tell her that he kissed Beatrice again.
"That's... horrible," Kida said, shaking her head, "I can't imagine how angry I'd be if that happened to me. We have to arrest that guard."
She stood up, ready to leave for the throne room, "Maybe even execute him!"
"No, please, Kida," he clung to her arm, "if the guard finds out that I've told you, he'll kill me!"
"Well, something must be done about this. What can we do?"
"I... don't know."
"Perhaps if we worked together we could find a way to get the upper hand and prevent your death..." Kida said, "But I wish you hadn't lied. The last thing I want is to see you dead, Milo."
"Thank you, Kida and I'm sorry, about everything. Embarrassed, really."
"I forgive you," she opened her arms to hug him but, due to the fact that he hadn't showered in days, he smelled like a corpse that died in a pile of garbage, "Ugh, you smell horrible. Why don't you take a bath and then we'll have dinner in the suite?"
"Yes to all of that."
With a new robe, a warm bath, a reconciliation with Kida, and a long rest, Milo's only remaining worries were soreness all over and, well, a lot of things, actually. He wasn't sure where Beatrice was, the evil guard was at large and the citizens hated him. Lots of pluses and minuses. However, he was finally with Kida and she no longer hated him so it wasn't all bad.
Where was Beatrice? If she had left she would have told them, right? But she was supposed to leave today, this morning... Maybe she was taking her time to say goodbye to Atlantis or still packing. Surely they wouldn't let her leave without letting him say goodbye to her.
A low hum could be heard in the palace, but Milo didn't recognize the noise. He looked out the window and instantly the glass was splattered with fruit. He looked around the mess in the window and saw most of the city's population still crowded around the palace, chanting and screaming.
"Oh God!" he moved away from the window, hoping he was no longer in view.
"Please try not to worry too much, Milo," Kida said, hoping her voice sounded calm and collected.
"And why not? Has this ever, in the history of Atlantis, happened?"
Kida said nothing. Milo sunk into his chair at the table and put his head in his hands.
"I've failed as a King, as a husband..."
"Milo, don't say things like that. It will only make all of this worse."
"But it's true."
She sighed, "you need to eat something before you faint again. There is a supper ready for us in the great hall. Let's go."
She stopped, "Milo, we need to put on a brave face for our servants. It is part of our job as monarchs to be the stable leaders that our people can look to for direction. Can you try your best to pretend?"
"Yes, of course." They hugged each other.
They sat at a long, ornate table with blue and turquoise decorations and a long purple tablecloth. With both halves of the royal couple dining together for the first time in weeks, the servants had tried to make the dinner fancier than usual with all the great Atlantean delicacies present in the menu.
"If I may be so bold, I have suggested a 7,000-year-old Merlakh for the occasion. You may remember your parents giving it to you from their winery when you were just a teenager," said one of the servants.
"Yes," Kida said, "that sounds wonderful. Very thoughtful of you to suggest it."
"That's amazing! The oldest wine I've ever tried was 20 years old," Milo said.
The wine was exquisite; sweet and velvety, with notes of raspberry, plum and butterscotch. Kida tasted the same flavours but they had different names for her. She had tasted the same wine when it was first made and it tasted much sweeter and more complex now, with new flavours coming out.
The dinner was delicious as well and they made pleasant chit-chat for the benefit of their servants until Kida looked across the long table into Milo's sad eyes that sat above his pretend smile and down at his neglected plate still filled with food.
Taking her plate with her so that she could sit beside Milo, she gently placed her hand on his, "Milo, I am sorry that I have been so cold to you lately. Perhaps some of it was deserved but not all of it. I think I went overboard, to be honest. And I certainly did not want you to faint in front of everyone. You've been trying very hard to reconcile with me and I appreciate that. Please accept my apology."
Milo smiled weakly, with beads of tears around his eyes, "Of course I forgive you, Kida. I would have been angry with me too. I'm still very sorry about how I treated you."
"Thank you," she paused. "Milo, you really must not give up. If you keep trying you can win the citizens' favour back."
"How can you be sure?"
"Because I've lived about 8,400 years longer than you and I have never witnessed a leader do more for his people in such a short amount of time than you."
The corners of his mouth stretched into a reluctant smile.
"Thanks Kida," he said softly.
Kida noticed a piece of paper under her napkin, ever so slightly visible. She decided that she would wait until Milo went to the bathroom to look at it; he usually excused himself once a meal. It could of course be a note from Milo himself but if it wasn't and he wasn't supposed to see it, it would be prudent to hide it from him, just in case.
Like clockwork, Milo left the table to relieve himself. The moment the door closed she opened the paper, knowing the servants weren't allowed to tell Milo about anything she wanted to hide from him.
Dear Queen Kidagakash,
Thank you very much for having me at your extraordinary palace. Yours and Milo's hospitality has been nothing short of perfection. I have enjoyed my stay immensely. I am aware that it was your decision to have me leave but I harbour no ill will. After all, it is your right. It was my time to leave anyway as I need to get on with my life and find my place in the world.
I am sorry that I have come between you and Milo. Truly. And this is my meagre gift to the two of you, because I think you are meant to be together: I will leave you alone and go back to the surface. And please don't feel sorry for me or blame yourselves or any of that balderdash. All of your problems, they were my fault and I feel terrible. Please forgive me. And please, forgive each other and be good to each other. Your love is the stuff of fairytales.
I think Atlantis is in very good hands with both of you at the helm and I don't doubt that you will bring many improvements to it. I will miss both of you and your city very much.
Kida felt a lump in her throat. Perhaps there was hope for them. Beatrice was stepping aside graciously. Maybe too graciously. Oh, Milo would be upset. But if she gave him a little time to mourn the parting of her friend, then maybe with patience, there would be hope for them as a couple again. Thank you, Beatrice. She just hoped that Milo wouldn't be too devastated. He had been having such a hard night. Perhaps it would be better if she waited until the morning to tell him about Beatrice, let him relax for the evening.
The dinner was divine and the pair polished off the bottle of wine together, laughing and smiling genuinely. They got up from their chairs.
"That was a wonderful dinner," Kida touched Milo on his shoulder, "I'm going to have a bath. After that, will you join me in my chambers for some more wine?"
Milo knew what this meant. That was about as obvious as it got. "Uh, y-y-yes. Definitely!"
"Looking forward to it," she said as she left.
Milo waltzed upstairs and waited inside the royal chambers. He stripped down to his underwear to save Kida some time. Then he lay on the bed with his arms folded under his head, thinking about how to get back into the Atlanteans' good books. It was probably just the wine, but he was feeling really great. After Kida's kindness and encouragement everything seemed much less daunting. He hadn't felt this great since he had been kissed by Beatrice. But he also couldn't think of too many moments more horrible than pulling away from that kiss...
He shook his head and grimaced. Why did he have to think about Beatrice? Why couldn't his mind take even an hour's break from her? And where was she? He was starting to think that maybe she had left without saying goodbye.
He put his toga back on and walked briskly to Beatrice's bedroom.
Milo's pace quickened with every step as he cared less and less about whether he alarmed his servants. He had to say goodbye to Beatrice. He prayed that she was still in Atlantis. Finally reaching her room, he saw that her bed was made and her things were gone. He began to tremble.
Milo whirled around the room and landed on the desk. He searched for some kind of note but it was empty, like furniture in a hotel room. Ripping the bedding from the bed frame, he shook it vigorously and scanned the mattress for something, anything. Finding nothing he looked under the pillow and found a small scrap of worn-out paper with little dark dots of dried-out water stains:
This is very hard for me to write. And to do, as a matter of fact. I hope you will forgive me and someday see that I was helping you. By the time you read this note, I will be gone, so please don't try to find me around town. Your search will be in vain. All the same, I am doing what I was told to do, just a bit more abruptly so as to spare us all some unnecessary pain. Who needs more of that?
I don't know what to say. All I know is that you should be with your wife. It's the right thing to do and the sane thing. And please don't see me as some kind of martyr because I didn't steal you away from Kida. See me as someone who has a heart, even if it is small and feeble - someone who isn't a monster. That's all I am.
I have faith in you two. You two once had a wonderful love and you still can have it again. I've heard so much about your adventures when you first met and how you meant the world to each other. I know you can't see it right now but you two will find that love again - I'm sure it's just hiding in a corner because I scared it away. Again, a good reason for me not to be here anymore. I know you two are the best leaders Atlantis could ever have and you have and will do great things for your kingdom.
I thank you profusely for taking care of me and letting me stay with you and discover this amazing place. It was one of the happiest times of my life.
What will I do? I think I will give archeology a try. I will be traveling to England to do field work, hopefully I will be able to join in the excavation of Stonehenge, fingers crossed.
This is the hardest thing I have ever done, but it would be even harder to live with the regret that comes with selfishness. From the bottom of my heart I wish you the very best.
I will always love you.
Milo stood as still as a statue.
He read the letter again, looking for the caveat, the joke, the silver lining... No, she was gone. No goodbye. No chance for him to apologize and make it right. It was his fault. He felt like he had been stabbed in the stomach.
He had to go find her. He had to go to the surface and find Stonehenge and apologize for everything and make things right with her.
No, no, no! What was he thinking? He'd top his list of selfish acts because that would be the worst. No, he had to stay with Kida and know that Beatrice would always remain far, far above him, in England.
Maybe this was good. Maybe this was the push forward to his happiness with Kida. He fell face-up onto Beatrice's bed and began to cry.