He was up before the rest of his party, Lotor standing some distance from the camp, scouting the area. This early only the birds were up, letting out the occasional chirps as they hunted worms, their weight such that they didn’t even disturb the branches of the trees. The trees themselves formed a thick canopy over the forest, the early morning sun not able to get more than a few sunbeams through the foliage.
It was just enough to light up the woods, but not enough to warm the air, Lotor’s breath chilling as quickly as it left him. The women were huddled together, shivering as they rested, and no one, not even Romelle had seen fit to complain about the lack of a fire. They had known without Lotor telling them, that it would have been too risky, the smoke of the flames would have been a beacon that would lead their Drule pursuers to them.
Even with the woman cuddled together for the collective’s body warmth, Lotor felt sure that some if not all of them would come down with a cold. They were all dressed for warmer weather, thin fabric that seemed to let in every gust of wind. Lotor wished he had had the time to think to bring his cloak, he would have given it to Allura. Even though he strongly suspected his mate would have passed it off to someone else, as a sign of her caring.
He paced closer to the camp, taking care to erase the signs of their travel. Several branches were in his hands, Lotor sweeping them across the dirt, erasing the footprints the women had left. He also took care to check the bushes and trees, making sure no one’s hair or clothing had ripped off during their passage. He still felt his efforts were inadequate, Lotor wishing there was more he could do to throw his people off their track.
He glanced up at the sky again, trying to peer through the foliage to judge how much time had passed. He had forced the women to walk for most of the night, not allowing them to rest until an hour before sun up. Such actions had made him even more unpopular, but right now Lotor didn’t care about making friends, more concerned with surviving long enough to get to Allura’s castle.
He returned to the camp, eyeing the stretch of forest ahead of them. There had been no sign of anyone from the castle, but he was sure eventually they would come across someone. He had mixed feelings about that, Lotor not wanting to be outnumbered by human soldiers, and yet wanting to get the women to the safety the humans could offer.
He passed by Darius, the human captain sleeping upright, laser rifle clutched in his arms. Lotor was careful not to make any sounds as he moved, not wanting the human to accidentally shoot him. He inched closer to Allura and the pile of females, Lotor going down on one knee to shake his mate awake. She wasn’t in that deep a sleep, Allura startling awake with a gasp.
He smiled at her, pleased she hadn’t screamed. “What…Is it time already?” She tried to stifle a yawn, looking far too tired for his liking.
“We need to get a move on.” Lotor said. “The Drules won’t rest any longer than this.” He left off the dark thought that whispered the Drule might not have rested at all.
“All right…” Allura sighed, sitting upright. She nudged the woman next to her, a pretty redhead whose eyes were a vibrant green color. The redhead moaned when she realized it was already time for them to break camp, her princess already touching the arm of the next woman. One by one, the remaining women were awakened, the soft murmur of their complaints rousing Captain Darius from his nap.
Lotor noted the man did not complain, the guard surely used to roughing it under less than ideal conditions due to his soldier’s background. He laid down the rifle next to him, and began doing some deep knee bends, some sort of exercise meant to wake him more fully.
“We should get going now.” Lotor said, hand held out to help Allura stand. He noticed she had a twig caught up in her hair, Lotor gently untangled it from her braid. She blinked at it in surprise, flushing slightly as though she was embarrassed over her less than immaculate state. “Don’t worry.” Lotor murmured for her ears alone. “You look beautiful in my eyes, even with twigs in your hair.”
The moment was ruined by Romelle’s voice, the woman loudly complaining. “Not only am I tired, and cold, I’m hungry too. Why can’t you be a good savage, and go rustle up some breakfast for us?”
“Romelle!” Allura exclaimed, turning to stare at her cousin. “Can’t you at least be civil to Lotor? Especially after all he’s done?”
“Hmph.” Romelle crossed her arms over her chest, giving the prince the evil eye. “Unlike some people, I haven’t forgotten that he was part of the party who captured us in the first place. If they had just left us alone, we wouldn’t be in this situation in the first place!”
“If we hadn’t taken you, we would have found someone else to capture.” Lotor told her. “No doubt Arus would already be on it’s way towards total domination by the Drule. It’s a very fortunate twist of fate, that I was the one to find you, that Allura was with you…” A sudden thought had him trailing off, Lotor imagining how close he had come to perhaps never meeting his mate.
“Lotor?” Allura’s hand was on his arm, she had noticed the shiver that went through him.
“I’m fine.” Lotor quickly reassured her. “If your cousin is done with her complaints, we should leave now.”
“I’m in agreement with the Drule.” Came Darius voice, the man having finishing his squats. He was standing now, laser rifle in hand, and scanning the way they had come. He was tense, though Lotor could see no reason for it.
“The Drule haven’t caught up with us.” Lotor told him.
“How can you be so sure?” Darius wanted to know. “I see no signs…”
“I’ve heard the stories…” added Marie, voice a hushed whisper. “The Drule move like silent shadows, their presence unnoticed until they are right upon you.” The women seemed to shiver as one, and they alternated between looking at Lotor and the woods behind them.
“Is it true?” asked the redhead, looking at Lotor for confirmation.
“My people are good at stealthy maneuvers…” Lotor admitted, and Romelle snorted.
“Nothing but a bunch of lousy sneaks!”
“But…I am here. I will be able to notice signs of their presence long before they can sneak up on us. So please..” Lotor made shooing motions with his hands. “Let us get moving before that happens.”
They were still looking scared, but they nodded, the women beginning to move. “Good job.” Darius murmured to him, and Lotor turned surprised.
“Captain, is that praise I hear?”
Darius colored, fixing Lotor with a nasty look. “Just keep on your eyes open Drule. I want plenty of warning before your…comrades appear.” With that, the human was stalking ahead of Lotor, hurrying to catch up to the women. Lotor held back a sigh, and with one last glance behind him, moved. He couldn’t shake the uneasy feeling he had, it had been with him ever since he had woke up, as if his instincts were telling him something bad was going to happen.
But he didn’t know what that could be, Lotor positive he saw none of the signs that would mean the Drule soldiers were near. He was also worrying about what would happen once they reached Allura’s castle, Lotor not sure how the humans there would take to the sight of a Drule. Even one who had helped their princesses escape from their Drule captors.
He was only slightly reassured that he had his sword, and a laser rifle with a stun charge that was half full. He didn’t want to have to shoot any humans, but if it came down to it, he would. Especially if it meant saving his own hide at the expense of theirs!
There was a commotion up ahead of him, Lotor frowning as the excited sounds some of the women made. They had stopped walking, pausing by bushes, and he had to walk closer to see what it was they were looking at. He wasn’t sure what he was expecting, but it was not the tiny red berries hanging on the bushes’ leaves.
“Looks like we didn’t need you for breakfast after all.” Romelle said smiling, a handful of berries already in her hand. The other women were beginning to pick apart the bushes, eating greedily.
“Wait..” Lotor said, alarmed when Allura began to eat a few. “Do you even know if those are safe?”
“Of course.” Allura assured him. “These are the type of berries we were picking at the lake. Perfectly harmless, and quite good.” She came close to him, actually holding a fat berry between her fingers as she raised it to his lips. He frowned, even as she nudged it into his mouth, Lotor hesitant to try the fruit for fear it might be poisonous.
“Just try it!” She said, eyes alight with laughter. “Or are you scared?”
“I fear little when it comes to my own personal safety.” Lotor answered, biting down on the berry. A small explosion of taste, the berry sweet and ripe. Allura smiled at
him, and offered him another berry, Lotor opening his mouth this time for her. He was all eyes for her, not noticing that Romelle had turned, watching them with a frown on her face.
It was Darius who broke up the berry breakfast, the man’s voice gruff. “We can’t remain here long enough for you to gorge yourself on berries.” The women let out disappointed moans, some hastily grabbing more berries off the bush. “That’s enough.” He said. “You can walk and eat at the same time.”
“The captain is right.” Lotor said, licking stray berry juice off his lips. “I’m sure once we get to the castle, a real feast can be arranged for us then.”
“He talks as if he would be invited to such a feast.” Romelle muttered under her breath.
“Come…” Allura said, finishing off the last of the berries she had picked. “The sooner we get to the castle, the sooner this ordeal will be over with.”
“What are you looking forward to the most?” One of the women asked, the one that had cried over jumping from the Drule warship.
“A hot meal!” sighed the redhead, and the others echoed their agreement.
“A chance to sleep in a real bed!” said Marie.
“A shower!” said another, and that seemed to excite them most of all.
Lotor noted Allura did not join in the conversation, and he wondered if she was worrying about what would happen when she brought a Drule to the castle. It would be a worry they shared, Lotor hurrying to fall into step side by side with Allura. She looked very tired, and the strain of traveling was starting to show, the girl seeming to wilt like a flower.
When she misstepped, nearly falling against a tree, Lotor decided to take matters into his own hands. Literally as the case was, the Drule sweeping Allura up into his arms. She had been mid yawn when he reached for her, now she let out a loud shout. “Lotor!”
Somewhere a bird took flight, startled by Allura’s voice. “What are you doing?” She demanded, her struggles weaker than they could have been. “I can walk!”
“You’re tired Allura.” Lotor told her, calm as can be. He didn’t stop walking, easily carrying her as he stepped under a low hanging tree branch.
“We all are.” Allura quickly pointed out. “Every last one of us.” When he made no move to put her down, she sighed. “You shouldn’t be wasting your strength like this.”
“I have plenty in reserve.” Lotor assured her. “And it costs me nothing to carry you like this.”
It was perhaps a sign of how tired she was that Allura didn’t argue as furiously as she could have, the girl starting to relax in his arms. But sleep seemed to elude her, Allura staring up at him, studying his face. “Why don’t you look half as tired as I feel?”
“I’m a Drule.” Lotor said, and realized she required more of an answer from him. “We don’t require as much sleep as humans do.”
“But still you do sleep. And you were up before the rest of us at camp.”
“And I’ll have much to do yet before I can gain any true rest.” Replied Lotor.
“Don’t work yourself into a coma.” Allura warned. “I wouldn’t like that one bit.”
He smiled at that, tone teasing. “I’ll take the warning into consideration.”
“Romelle’s wrong.” Allura suddenly said, resting her head on his shoulder. “You would be invited to the feast.”
“Glad to hear it.” Lotor said, studying the top of the forest’s canopy. He could just make out the spires of some tall building, and he wondered if it was the castle coming into view. If it was they still had some distance to go, but he felt hope that they were going to make it.
“It can’t be easy…” continued Allura. “Doing all this….”
“What’s difficult about this?” Lotor kept his tone light, walking forward. “Traveling with a group of women that are cranky at best, and neither like nor trust me? That I’ve all but betrayed my people, lost command of my crew, and the woman that I love doesn’t love me back…”
“Lotor…” A sad saying of his name, Allura lowering her eyes.
“I’m managing.” He continued. “The best I can. In the only way I can.”
“I can give you asylum on Arus.” She said it as though she knew it wouldn’t be enough, voice soft. “It may not be your home world but…” Allura shrugged. “You’d be protected here.”
He didn’t turn her down, nor did he accept her offer, Lotor knowing better than to cut of all options. With all that had happened, he might very well be forced to seek out a new home, and all because Morduck had tried to harm Allura. That damn Drule had made an already complicated situation worse, Lotor forced to flee with his mate, possibly turn traitor to his own people.
He was once again pressed with the urgency to speak with his father, knowing that his answer could possibly solve his problems, or make new ones. He didn’t even want to think what would happen once inside Allura’s castle, Lotor knowing if he regained command of the invasion, he would be hard pressed to fight his way back to the warship. He was putting himself into a position to be taken as a hostage, and only the thought that he would be near his mate kept him from turning back once he escorted her safely home.
Allura had finally managed to fall asleep in his arms, her body totally relaxed. He smiled, satisfied to see her getting some much needed rest, and was surprised to hear some of the other women whispering the same thoughts.
“It’s good that the princess get some rest.” One said, and another sighed, almost envious.
“I wish I had a strong man to carry me while I slept. Especially one as handsome as he.”
“Gloria!” Another gasped in admonishment. “Are you saying you find the Drule attractive?”
“He’s….he’s not hard on the eyes!” Gloria sounded defensive when she said that. “And he’s certainly attentive to our princess.”
“He’s obsessed.” Came Romelle’s disgusted voice. “He ignores the rest of us save to give us orders. Hmph. I think the Drule forgets he’s no longer in charge. Hasn’t been since we got off that ship of his!” No one pointed out that they had been following Lotor’s commands throughout the entire journey. Or that his orders were ones that kept them safe and free.
“Do you think he loves her?” That was Marie, surely risking Romelle’s wrath in asking such a thing.
“Gods no!” Romelle retorted, sounding aghast. “It’s lust and nothing more.”
“Still…they did spend a lot of time together…” mused one. “They were alone for days. What do you think happened?”
“Nothing! Absolutely nothing!” insisted Romelle.
Lotor hid a smile, thinking Allura’s ears would be burning if she knew what her cousin and friends were talking about.
“Whatever happened, she still trusts him enough to go to sleep in his arms.” Pointed out Gloria. “That has to count for something.”
Lotor wondered what they would think if they knew just exactly what had went on between them, the prince remembering the tension filled days in his cabin. As torturous as those days had been, he found himself longing to return to that time. It might not have been simpler times, but at least he had had his mate secured, a home to return to, and an army to command.
He held back a sigh, hearing excited murmurs as the women realized the castle of lions was coming into view. They were almost to the end of the woods, and the knowledge had everyone stepping quicker. He heard the bushes rustling, and reacted in an instant, nudging Allura awake as he set her down on the forest floor.
“Hmm what?” She murmured sleepily, rubbing at her eyes with her hand. “Are we there yet?”
“Almost…” Lotor said, reaching for the laser rifle hanging off his shoulder. That movement alerted Allura to the trouble he sensed, she stilled and looked around, wide eyed.
“What is it?” She whispered, just as men burst through the trees. The women gave glad shouts, Gloria openly weeping in relief to see the castle soldiers. The group was rushing forward, only Lotor and Allura hanging back. The men from the castle noticed Lotor almost immediately, angry shouts being issued. Arus may not have had much personal experience with the Drule, but they knew enough to recognize what Lotor was.
They immediately trained their weapons on him, Lotor tensing, his own rifle aimed back at them. His eyes dared them to try and shoot him, and the hard expression of the humans said they were all too tempted to take up that challenge.
“What is a Drule doing here?!”
“The only good Drule is a dead one!”
“It’s an invasion!” Romelle cried out, the princess quick to stir trouble. “There’s a whole ship of them hiding in the middle of the forest!”
“It’s true.” Said Darius, and the soldiers cried out.
“Captain Darius! Where have you been? Where are the men who went searching with you?”
“All dead I’m afraid.” Came the captain’s grim answer. “Tortured and killed by the Drule.” His words had the guards even angrier, accusing looks being aimed at Lotor. One began to cock back the trigger on his weapon, and it was Allura who jumped in front of Lotor this time.
“Stop!” She commanded, even as Lotor growled.
“Allura, get out of harm’s way!”
“NO! They will not shoot me.” She assured him, but Lotor was angry, thinking how wrong it was to allow his mate to put herself in danger. He reached for her arm, and the men reacted, shouting things at him.
“Unhand the princess you fiend!”
“If you harm her in anyway, we will make sure it’s a slow death you die!”
“My my.” Lotor said, struggling with Allura who was digging her feet into the ground. She was refusing to be pulled behind him, the girl going so far as to plaster herself against his front. “You Arusians are a blood thirsty lot, aren’t you?”
“The Drule dares to call us bloodthirsty?” One of the guards said in disbelief, and Allura let out an angry shout.
“Put down your weapons!” She glared, and the men hesitated. “All of you!” A look towards Lotor, her lips frowning. “You too.”
“Them first.” Lotor said, refusing to be disarmed while the humans were aiming blasters at them.
“Do as I say!” Allura snapped, and the soldiers reluctantly lowered their weapons. Lotor didn’t relax, and Allura tried to jerk free of his hand’s hold. “This man is a hero!” She announced. “It is thanks to him that we even managed to escape. I will not have you treating him with disrespect, or threatening him.”
“But princess, he’s a Drule…” The man was almost whining when he said that.
“He’s….he’s my friend.” Allura said.
“We don’t have time to sort this out.” Interjected Darius. “The Drule are in hot pursuit. I won’t feel better until we are safe behind castle walls. Then you can ask all the questions you like.”
Lotor noted the soldiers seemed to respond better to the captain, than to their own princess and that made him frown in displeasure. He wanted to ask Allura what that was about, but didn’t want to embarrass her in front of the group.
“Let’s go.” Allura said, and slipped her hand into Lotor’s. He looked at her in surprise, but she stared straight ahead, a slight blush on her cheeks. He wondered at the hand holding, suspecting it had more to do with the desire to keep him safe from trigger happy humans than any affection she might feel for him. Lotor did not sigh, just moved when Allrua urged him to. The soldiers surrounded them, he could feel their eyes boring into him, their mistrust radiating off them in waves. It left Lotor wondering how much worse things would be once they actually got inside the castle.