He was drumming his fingers on top the surface of the table, a steady tapping beat that broke the silence of the room. His other hand held a mug, coffee gone warm from the amount of time Lotor had spent just staring into it’s cream colored depths. Allura was besides him, his mate similarly lost in thought, a fretful look in her eyes. She had been tense and on edge since he told her about the Arusian soldiers, the girl fearing for both their safety and their lives.
She had a right to be worried, Lotor knew Morduck would show not one ounce of consideration for their well being. The commander would be as ruthless as Lotor would have been, and unlike the prince, Morduck would surely delight in torturing these men.
Lotor wasn’t a squeamish man, he knew and understood that this was all part of war. That it was necessary in order to get the information they needed to allow the invasion of Arus to precede with success. He even realized Morduck was doing what Lotor could not, the prince sure to respond to his mate’s distress and leave the men untouched.
It made him worry, Lotor wondering if he was really as useless as Morduck seemed to think he had become. There shouldn’t be any shame associated with doing what one’s mate wanted, and yet he had the unenviable position of being torn between love and duty. To impress his father, to impress his people, he would have to ignore Allura’s tears. Easier said then done, when each tear drop sent flashes of guilt and feelings of inadequacy through him.
It was the nature of the Drule to comfort his mate, to reassure her, to keep her from sadness and fear. And yet his duty to his people was everything that made Allura frightened, might even make her fear Lotor himself because of the fiercesome reputation of the Drule. It was as though he would have to deny one side of him, to ensure the other was happy, and that didn’t leave Lotor content at all.
Lotor looked up from his coffee, eyes seeking out Allura’s. Her gaze flickered towards him, and once assured he had her attention, he spoke. “Please Allura…try to eat something….” The breakfast lay before them, practically untouched except for the few bites Lotor had managed to force down. “You need to keep up your strength.” He added when she made no move towards the meal.
“What’s the point?” She asked, tone listless. “You said it yourself, there’s nothing we can do. We’re prisoners…”
“Prisoners we may be…” Lotor began, setting down his mug. “But that doesn’t give us the right to give up. To wither away in grief or frustration.” He picked up a peeled orange colored fruit, and placed it in her hand. She looked down on it, not closing her fingers around the fruit.
“He’s going to hurt those men….isn’t he?” Allura asked. Lotor reluctantly nodded, not wanting to lie to her, even about this. “They may be men I know, might even be people I grew up with. And he’s going to hurt them.”
“He wants the information they have. To learn of the castle’s defense systems, that would be far more valuable than that of the towns.”
She looked up at him, and her gaze became determined. “If I went to Morduck. If I told that horrid men what he wanted to know….would he then spare the lives of those men?”
“No.” Lotor answered, tone blunt. “He’d just kill them. Enemy soldiers are too much trouble to keep around.” And that was provided Morduck even believed what Allura would tell him.
She paused, now playing with the fruit he had given her. “Aren’t you going to ask me why I might know the secrets of the castle’s defense?”
“Would you tell me if I did?” Lotor asked, not wanting to say he suspected she would make something up to appease Morduck.
“I don’t know…” She admitted. “It’s….it’s complicated.” She stared at the fruit, rolling it around on the table before her, getting it dirty. “You were right….” Allura peeked up at him through lowered lashes. “About before. About your guesses. I am more than a berry picker…”
Lotor kept silent, just letting her get the words off her chest. He thought he might learn more if he just listened, rather than prod her with questions.
Allura sighed, letting the fruit roll to a stop. “I’m of high enough birth to know the ins and outs of the castle. I could very well be the key to winning this war for you…” A direct look this time, blues eyes as anxious as they were certain. “Aren’t you gonna ask me how?”
“I dare say you’ll tell me if you really want me to know…” Lotor said, though a feeling was developing inside him. An instinct that was hinting at just how high up in the planet’s hierarchy she was, if she could make that claim. But he didn’t want it to be true, Lotor wanting to be play ignorant for as long as Allura would let him.
“How much do you know about Arus’ rulers? Wait, don’t answer that. I can guess.” She sighed. “About as much as we knew about you Drule.”
“How can you be so sure?” Lotor wanted to know.
“Lotor, I’ve no doubt you wouldn’t recognize the ruler of Arus, even if you were in front of that person.” She glanced down, once again playing with the fruit. “It was the same for me. I didn’t know who you were until you told me you were the crown prince….” She let out a bitter sound, half laughing half gasping. “Funny that. That both of us could be so ignorant…”
His bad feeling persisted, Lotor staring at her. She exhaled, needing that steadying breath as she prepared to unburden herself. Lotor placed his hand on top of hers, the fruit slipping out from beneath her fingers. “Allura…whatever it is….it will be okay….”
She still wouldn’t look at him, nervousness radiating off her in waves. “Lotor…I…I am…I am the princess of Arus.”
He didn’t know what sort of reaction she expected him to have, Lotor managing to be impassive. She had just confirmed what the bad feeling had been hinting at, and he didn’t take his hand away from hers.
“Well?” She demanded. “Aren’t you going to say something?”
“Morduck can never know.” Lotor said, and she looked surprised at that. “There’s no telling what he will do to you if he finds out.”
“What about you?” Allura asked. “You could use me, use this and the information I have to regain your commanding position. You could oust Morduck, and complete this invasion of Arus…”
He knew all that, and yet just as quickly as she said it, Lotor dismissed it. “I’ll figure out a way to do all that without putting you at risk.” Lotor said. She looked conflicted to hear that, Lotor petting her hand. “Thank you. For telling me this. For trusting me enough with this secret.” She just nodded, and Lotor leaned back in his chair, thinking about the revelation. It left him feeling quite like the fool when he remembered the things that he had said to her, how he had boasted about making her the queen of the planet. Of offering Arus to her on a silver platter, when she already had possession of this world.
No wonder she hadn’t been tempted by his gifts, they must have paled in comparison to the things she could buy with Arus’ wealth. She had a million ties to this world, to the people and places she ruled over. He couldn’t even offer her a better life as his wife, not when she already ruled at her young age. How could he ever hope to tempt her to leave a world as rich and beautiful as Arus, for the dark, dismal environment of Doom?
He couldn’t, and that made him more depressed, his fingers slowing their stroking motions. She noticed, and grew concerned, moving her hand to capture his. “Lotor?”
“It’s nothing.” He said, trying to smile at her, though it was wilted at the corners of his mouth.
“Are you sure?” Allura asked worriedly.
“It’s just took me by surprise.” He told her. “I’m worried for you…”
“More than you were?”
“Indeed.” He nodded, concern in his voice. “How loyal are those men to you?”
“Very.” She answered.
“For your sake I hope so.” He was grim then, Allura gripping his hand harder. “I don’t want to alarm you, but if one of them breathes even a whisper of your true identity….”
“Morduck will come for me.” She said fearfully. “But Lotor! What about the mating business? I thought mates were sacred to Drules!”
“To most yes. It’s what most of us long for, yearning for that moment of feeling completed. But some, like my father, hate the very concept of mates. He wouldn’t hesitate to use you to get Arus in Doom’s possession. And what’s more, I don’t doubt that Morduck would do the same, so long as the order came from our King.” She paled at that, frightened by his words.
“I have to get off this ship!” Allura whispered, pulling back her hand.
“I’ll protect you Allura.” Lotor was quick to assure her. “With my life if need be….”
“And what happens if you die?” She looked near to tears, and Lotor could only shrug.
“I won’t.” He tried to sound confidant.
“I miss my cousin. I miss my friends.” She said in reply. “Do we even know if they’re safe?”
“I can’t know for certain, but it is my hope that Morduck is too busy with the soldiers from the search party to deal with the women in the holding cells.” His answer didn’t appease her, he could see Allura wanted actual proof and not just speculations. “He may not even bother with the towns if he gains the castle’s information from those soldiers.”
He was glad she was too innocent to think of other, more darker possibilities. Such as the Drule taking the women out of the holding cell, and torturing them in front of the Arusian soldiers, all to make them break down and tell them what they want to know. Even more troubling, he realized that Romelle as Allura’s cousin, surely held a position of power on this planet. If she was brought out before the soldiers, the Arusians would easily spill secrets to spare her life.
“What?” Lotor cursed inwardly, realizing some of his thoughts must have played out on his face. Either that or Allura was learning to read him better. “You thought of something. What is it?”
“You should eat.” Lotor said instead of answering her question. “It’s best to keep up your strength…”
“In case I’m tortured?” Allura asked, and that made him frown. “You know that’s a very real possibility…”
“Tell me about your life on Arus.” Lotor urged, trying to distract her from her worries. “I believe you mentioned you had studies…”
She fixed him with a strange look, but answered anyway. “Yes…I’m following several subjects at the moment, in addition to learning five languages.”
“Five languages?” He was impressed, even as he wondered how she would take to the Drule tongue. “And you do all this in addition to ruling?”
“Not…not exactly…” She hesitated. “I don’t come into my queenship until I turn twenty-one. My guardians are the ones who do most of the ruling, though they have been involving me more and more with the decision making and political aspects of the kingdom. It’s all to help prepare me for the day I become Queen, and truly rule this land.” She sighed then, and he wondered at the frustrated quality to it. “It’s been this way since I was ten, since my parents died.”
“How did they die?” Lotor asked, and saw the pain flash in her eyes. “You don’t have to speak about it if it’s too painful…”
“It was a cruiser accident, their vehicles collided with another.” She looked as though the pain was still raw, as if the wounds of losing her parents would never completely heal over. “I know what you’re doing.” She added, giving him a look. “You’re trying to distract me from my worries!”
“Is it working?” Lotor asked, and she shrugged.
“Maybe…Lotor…what about your parents? Your mother?”
“My mother died when I was very young. Younger than you were when you lost both of yours.” Lotor answered simply. “I was barely out of diapers when it happened.”
“I’m sorry…” She touched his hand, eyes looking misty with unshed tears. “How did it happen?” He hesitated, not sure of the details, knowing his father had talked little about the woman who had given birth to his son. “Don’t you know?”
He shook his head. “I can barely remember the sound of her voice, and all I have left of my memories of her are a few pictures my father saved. Not that I think him the sentimental kind in the slightest.” Lotor sighed, even as he was picking up an apple, handing it to Allura. “Please….”
“All right, all right!” She took a big bite of the juicy red fruit, exaggerating her chewing. “But only to get you to stop nagging me!” Her words were almost teasing, Lotor smiling at her relieved. “But you have got to eat too!” She pointed out, and he reached for a piece of meat that had gone cold. He made a show of chewing it, mimicking her behavior perfectly.
Soon they were both laughing, the sound more relived than happy. Some of their tension left when they laughed, and the two began to eat in earnest. It was then that the doors to the cabin opened, the scene reeking of familiarity as soldiers ran in. This time they purposefully aimed their weapons at Lotor and Allura, the pair standing, Lotor making sure to position himself so that his mate was hidden by his body.
His instincts were screaming, alarm bells ringing in his head, even as he fought to keep his stance relaxed. He let his hands dangle at his side, right hand ready to draw his sword at the slightest movement from the soldiers.
“Stand down Prince Lotor.” Morduck’s oily voice, the general turned commander stalking into the room. Lotor was quick to note that Morduck didn’t come as near as he could have, the man leaving two men to stand before him. “It is not you we’ve come for.”
Those words told Lotor enough, the prince fighting not to tense up his arms. “If you come to clean up the remains of breakfast, my mate and I are not yet finished with our meal.” He stressed the word mate, wanting to be sure that everyone in the room knew what Allura was to him.
“I’ll leave breakfast to someone else to clean up.” Morduck answered. “I’ve come for the girl.”
His worse fear confirmed, Lotor had to fight to keep from snarling. “And why would another man be concerned with my mate?”
Morduck hesitated, as though he didn’t want to answer. “There’s been a startling development….One I’m sure even you would be interested in…sire.” That last word was added as an afterthought, Morduck not even playing at being respectful.
“Oh? I wonder what that could be.” Lotor asked, eyebrows raised. “After all, it’s not every day a man hands over his mate to the care of another male. I doubt very much anything you could say would make me want to do that.”
“That girl is important.” Replied Morduck without batting an eye. “She’ll give us the chance to make up for the losses you caused us.”
“How?” Lotor demanded, feeling Allura’s fingers curl into the back of his tunic. She was being quiet, but then she didn’t have much to offer since he and Morduck were speaking in Drule.
“She’s the princess of Arus.” Morduck finally admitted, and narrowed his eyes at Lotor. “You don’t seem very surprised to hear that.” The commander was eyeing him with suspicion, growling out an accusation. “You knew! Didn’t you?! And you said nothing!” A scoffing sound then, Morduck disgusted. “You really are worthless to us now.”
Lotor ignored then insult, demanding his own answers from Morduck. “Just what do you intend to do with my mate?” Some of the soldiers were growing restless, unsettled by the turn the conversation was taking for the two Drules.
“It doesn’t matter.” Morduck said, and then was ordering the two in front of him to approach Lotor and Allura. “Take the girl from the prince.” The men hesitated, and Morudck snarled. “Do it now!”
“But commander!” One protested, as the other began to creep forward, laser rifle trained on Lotor. “She’s his mate…” He spoke it in the way that would have made a more clear thinking Drule realize just how insane it was to approach a mated pair with the intent to separate the two. Morduck and the other soldier seemed not to care, and if they were aware of Lotor tensing up, they made no mention of it.
“She is first and foremost an enemy of the Drule. She is the key to Doom’s success on this planet. And she will be used to the fullest extent of her abilities.” Morduck said, raising his voice for all the soldiers in the room to hear.
There was a hum of lazon, followed by a scream of pain and a thump. Lotor looked calmly past the soldier whose hand he had just chopped off, the blood spurting into the air and onto the front of his uniform. The laser rifle had fallen with the hand, and the solider was too busy panicking, remaining hand covering the bleeding stump of his arm in an attempt to staunch the blood.
Allura had squeaked when he did that, but she did not let go of his uniform. Some of the soldiers immediately began charging their weapons, lasers waiting to be deployed. But others looked uncertain, a murmur of protests rising up.
“She is the prince’s mate….”
“He’ll kill to keep her.”
“What do you intend to do with his highness’ woman?”
“We shouldn’t try to separate them…”
“This is wrong…”
“I’ll ask you again!” Lotor’s voice rang out loud and clear over the murmurs of the soldiers. “What do you intend to do with my mate?”
Morduck was shoving at the other solider, trying to get him to approach the glaring prince. “It’s a good question.” Said the soldier. “What do you plan?”
“She’ll be used in whatever way is necessary to gain the surrender of this planet!” Morduck shouted. “Now stop standing around, and shoot him!”
Allura couldn’t possibly know what was going on, clinging to his back as Lotor began twirling his sword. The lazon hummed, different pitches of sound varying on it’s movements. The soldiers who hadn’t been questioning Morduck’s plans, opened fire without hesitation, and Allura screamed as the blasts went barreling towards them. But she didn’t try to leave Lotor’s side, keeping her position behind him.
His sword twirled in circles and jerky slashes, the laser beams hitting the blade, and causing it to spark. But more than that, the lasers fired back from where they came, slamming into the soldiers. They didn’t always get hit in their armor protected chests, some got shot in the arm or the knee, but it was enough to cause confusion, Morduck shouting and snarling as he ran out of the room.
Some of the soldiers left with him, the ones capable of movement. The others lay ion the floor, the laser beams having been set on a heavy dose of stun. There was two that remained behind, holding up their hands in surrender. “Forgive us Prince Lotor!” They begged, Lotor not lowering his sword as he looked at them. He realized they were one of the few who had protested Morduck’s actions, thinking it wrong to try and take away a man’s mate.
“What’s going on?” Lotor asked them, cautious for a trick. “How did Murdock learn she is the princess of Arus?”
“Then it’s true?” asked one. “She really is the princess….?”
“That doesn’t matter. She’s my mate.” Lotor growled, the sound possessive and low. “And Mordock would harm her!”
“It was the human soliders!” The other spoke. “They tried to outlast the torture, but one man was especially weak. He sang like a bird, telling Morduck all he needed to know, including who the princess of this planet is!” Lotor grimaced, realizing his worse fear had come true because of a weakling of a guard.
“Lotor?” Allura’s voice, the girl worried. He couldn’t risk turning to her, afraid these men might shoot him in the back. He wouldn’t put it past them to be pretending to be against Morduck’s plans.
“Toss aside your rifles.” Lotor ordered, his sword pointing at the floor before him. The two soldiers hesitated, and Lotor barked out an impatient word. “Now!” With a sigh, and two thunks, the rifles were thrown at his feet, Lotor nodding in approval. “Allura….do you think you can handle a weapon long enough to shoot someone?” He was speaking in Basic now, not caring if the guards could follow the conversation or not.
“Shoot someone?!” She squeaked out, fingers tightening on his tunic.
“Not to kill, just to stun.” Lotor quickly clarified. “We need to get out of here, and we don’t need these two following us.” She was still hesitating, Lotor fighting back his impatience. “We don’t have time for me to convince you. Morduck will be back soon with reinforcements. Now is the only time for us to escape!”
“Escape?” She repeated, startled.
“Yes! So please…..pick up a rifle, and shoot these fools!”
“Sire?” The soldiers appeared to have understood more than he’d like, the men started to back towards the door. “Please…we are on your side. We would never harm you or your mate…”
Lotor was barely listening to them, too focused on Allura who timidly crept out from behind him. She kept a nervous gaze on the two soldiers, but knelt to pick up a rifle. “Heavy….” She complained, and took aim at one of the Drules. Lotor used his free hand to help her hold the rifle steady, and with a pull of the trigger, a laser beam shot out of it. It hit the one man squarely in the chest, the other turning to run out the room. The second blast caught him in the back, the man hitting the floor.
Allura screamed when the men fell, and once Lotor let go of the rifle, she dropped it on the floor. Lotor hugged her to him, feeling how she was shaking. “It’s all right Allura.” Lotor said, being careful with his sword. “They’re not dead….they’re just asleep.”
“You promise?” She asked tearful, and he nodded.
“I wouldn’t lie to you about that.” Lotor said, and she hugged him back. As much as he would have liked to just stand there all day, hugging and comforting her, he knew they didn’t have much time left before someone came to investigate the screams. “Allura…come on….” He sheathed his sword, and knelt down to pick up both rifles, slinging one over his shoulder, and checking to make sure the one in his hands were fully charged. “We’re getting out of here.”
“We’re leaving?” Allura gasped, and he nodded.
“It’s not safe for you here. Not anymore.” Lotor said, looking at the bodies strewn about the floor of the cabin. He gestured with the rifle for her to follow him, and after a moment’s hesitation she did.
“Lotor…” He had his back to her, he was already at the doorway, scanning the empty hall for signs of danger. Not even the guards Jerok and Sabbath were around, but he didn’t relax. “I can’t just leave!”
“What? Why not?” He demanded, leading her into the hall, cautious for any movement.
“My cousin…” She answered. “My friends. I can’t just leave them to be tortured. I won’t.”
“You’ll be tortured in their place!” Lotor said gruffly. “Do you want that?”
“No….but still…I have to do what’s right.” She touched his back again, her hand shaking with fear. “Please….won’t you help me to rescue them?” He reluctantly turned to look at her, she was staring at him, her eyes pleading for him to grant her this request. “Please…” She repeated, tone urgent.
He stared at her, wanting to tell her no, his desire to get her to safety strong. Almost stronger than his desire to please her, the desire that would grant her just about anything she asked for. “Damn…” He muttered under his breath, realizing he really wasn’t right in the head if he was about to agree to his mate’s plea. “Fine…we’ll stop on our way to the holding cells…but at the first sign of trouble, we leave, with or without them.”
“Thank you!” Allura exclaimed, sniffling back tears. He wondered if she had even understood the last of what he said, Lotor gesturing for her to follow. He’d love to hold onto her hand, but he needed both of his free to handle the laser rifle. Slowly they worked their way down the hall, Lotor wondering if rescuing her cousin and the others would prove to be the worst idea he had ever had.