Their arrival at the castle was met with much fanfare, many of the people who lived and worked at the castle, waiting to see with their own eyes the return of their princess. There was many excited cheers, and more than a few wet eyes, people breaking down with relieved tears. It wasn’t just Allura they were happy to see, there was family present, relatives of the women who had been missing.
There was much hugging going on, people touching the women as though they didn’t believe they were real. Such was their relief, they didn’t let the fact that there was a stranger, a Drule present mar their joy in the reunion. Although, Allura was quick to note how the men kept giving Lotor suspicious glances, not at all appeased by the
news that the Drule had been the one to help the women escape.
She told herself it was for that reason that she remained close to Lotor, going so far as to cling to his arm. It held her back from the people’s welcome, few if any were bold enough to approach Allura while she was standing next to the Drule.
Lotor himself was stiff with tension, she could guess at the reason. He didn’t like being surrounded by so many humans, especially ones that were so mistrustful of him. The soldiers were still present, and they made a show of keeping their hands on their blasters, leaving her to fear what would happen if one or two proved a bit too trigger happy.
Lotor had not given up his laser rifle, it was slung over his shoulder, the prince seeming to take comfort from it’s presence. Allura couldn’t begrudge him that comfort, knowing all to well what it felt like to be among a group of strangers who held the potential to turn hostile.
The group was moving, making slow progress through the castle now. They were followed by the enthusiastic well wishers, people continuing to chatter at the women about all manner of things. It was Captain Darius who put a halt to the barrage of questions, pointing out that the princesses and their friends were surely tired from their ordeal.
She flashed a grateful smile to the captain, when the disappointed crowd fell back. He nodded at her, his words pleasing her further. “One of the guards took the liberty of calling ahead with your arrival. A meal has been prepared, and is waiting for you in the banquet hall.”
“Wonderful!” exclaimed Allura, and her friends were making approving sounds. “Please thank him on my behalf.”
“I will.” Darius promised, leading the group past the crowd of people.
The women were already speculating on just what sort of food would make up the meal, Gloria hoping for some of Nanny’s apple tarts. Some gentle teasing was thrown her way, the women knowing just how big a sweet tooth the girl had when it came to Nanny’s food.
It was good to hear her friends laughing, theirs moods relaxed now that the ordeal in the forest was over with. She wished she could share in their easy going manner, but Allura knew there was far too many things she had to be concerned about. Such as the Drule besides her, Lotor walking with a tension that had not existed in the forest. Not even when he had been shooting at his own people, had he been this upset.
He was also curious, turning his head this way and that, to study her home. She wondered what he thought of it, if he found the castle pleasing to his eyes. But more than that, she wondered if he was studying for escape routes, and that made her hold back a sigh.
He had to talk to his father, and she didn’t know what that would mean for them. For Arus. Lotor hadn’t been exactly forthcoming with what he planned to discuss, talking about how he needed to find out just what his father had ordered. She knew he hoped to get back his command, and that worried her, Allura not wanting to end up with Lotor as her enemy. She had hopes though, and she truly wished that Lotor would find a way to get his father to agree to some sort of peace treaty between Arus and Doom.
She wanted to talk to him about that, but knew now wasn’t the time. Not with the castle guards so close to them, listening to every word with mistrust in their eyes. She thought it strange that they were following them through the castle, Allura thinking the danger over with.
She went to dismiss them when they reached the banquet hall, the guards raising up protests that had Allura AND Lotor frowning. She tried not to flush, aware of how it looked that her own people were refusing to obey a simple request of their princess.
“Please…” She tried again, voice a little more firmer. “There is no need for ALL of you to remain with us. So return to your posts….”
“But princess…” a young guard began. “Are you sure you are not in need of our service?” His eyes shifted towards Lotor, suspicion at the heart of them.
“I am sure.” Allura insisted with a frown.
The next guard to protest wasn’t as subtle as his friend, he boldly spoke his mind. “You shouldn’t be alone with him.” He stared at Lotor as he spoke. “He’s dangerous.”
“That I’ve survived this ordeal is in thanks to this man here.” Allura pointed out. “I am safer with him than with any other Drule.”
“That doesn’t mean much.” A skeptical soldier muttered. “You can’t trust any of the Drule!”
“But I trust this one.” Allura said firmly. “Now leave.”
The guards began to grumble, and Captain Darius clamped a hand on one man’s shoulder. “I will vouch for the Drule.” He said to everyone’s surprise. “HE and I fought side by side to rescue the princesses and their friends.” Allura flashed a grateful look to the captain.
“Captain Darius, you simply must tell us what went down aboard the Drule ship!” One of the guards exclaimed.
“That I will.” Darius nodded. “So come with me, all who want to hear the story of the Drules and their plans for Arus.”
“Captain Darius, you’re not joining us for the feast?” She knew he had to be as hungry as the rest of them, and yet he was willingly passing up on a much needed meal.
“A soldier’s duty comes first.” Darius told her. “I need to do a debriefing while the details are still fresh in my mind.” But she suspected he would never forget the things that went down on the Drule ship, no matter how much time went by.
“All right…” Allura said, trying not to frown. “But please, take care of yourself at the first available opportunity.”
“I will princess.” He bowed to her, and the other guards followed his example before moving to follow him down the corridor. They hadn’t even faded from sight, before one of the women was opening the doors to the banquet hall.
“Finally!” Her cousin Romelle huffed in exasperation. “I thought they were never going to leave.”
“As did I.” She heard Lotor murmur, too soft for anyone but those standing right next to him to hear.
They entered the banquet hall, and a glad cry arose from the women. They had spied a table laden with food, a veritable feast that would be far too much for six women and a Drule to consume on their own. There was all manner of dishes, meats baked, glazed, and broiled. Several types of foul, and a smorgasbord of vegetables and fruits. There was even a dessert cart off to the side, and Gloria hurried to it, surely in search of Nanny’s apple tarts.
She would not be disappointed, Gloria pulling out a large plate with nearly a dozen of the tarts on top of it. She was already taking a bite of one, eyes seeming to roll
back in pleasure. “Oh heaven. Heaven!” She moaned in delight. “I never thought I’d get to taste this sweetness again!”
Everyone, including Lotor laughed at Gloria’s antics. But there was a tension to the joy expressed, Allura knowing it had been a valid fear for the women. There had been so much uncertainty about their captivity, and she wondered if Romelle and the others had ever given up hope of a rescue.
She moved to the table, at last slipping her arms free of their hold on Lotor. He trailed behind her, watching with amusement the way her friends and cousin descended upon the table. No one sat at first, they were too busy running up and down the length of the table, piling their plates with food. Lotor followed Allura as she selected her own meal, the prince choosing to mirror her choices in food.
It was no surprise to her when he maneuvered things so that he ended up sitting besides her. Romelle sat down across them, and her blue eyes were narrowed into a glare, staring at them over the plates of food. Romelle’s agitation showed in the way she ate, the girl viciously gnawing on chicken.
Everyone else seemed content to ignore Romelle’s mood, the conversation light and humorous as they ate. As glad as they were to finally have a meal, there were other things they were looking forward to just as much.
“After I’m done eating…” began the red haired Kyrie. “I just want to sleep for a week!”
“I know what you mean.” Marie said. “Just point me to a bed, and I’ll be out like a light!”
They were excited over the prospect of sleeping in a bed, a luxury that had been denied to them in the holding cell. There had been but one bench in their cell, the rest of them had had to sleep on the floor. Allura felt guilt that she had been enjoying the amenities of Lotor’s cabin.
“I know what I want to do!” announced Gloria, who had put down the tarts to enjoy a drink of some hot cider. “I want to burn this outfit.”
“Not a bad idea.” Agreed Allura. She was sick of the wrinkled dress suit she had worn these past few days. She would be glad if she never saw it again, and was most eager to change into something clean.
“I wonder what we missed while we were gone…” mused Marie. “Just think of all the gossip there is to be had!”
“We are probably the number one topic of choice. Both for our disappearance and our return!” pointed out Kyrie.
“We’ll have quite a story to tell back home in our villages!” said the black haired Tabitha.
“It’ll be good to return home.” Marie said, to the agreements of the others. “As nice as the castle is, it can’t beat being in my own bed, in my own room!”
“You don’t live in the castle?” Lotor asked, and his voice startled the women after such a long amount of silence from him.
“Most of us no. Only Gloria’s family.” Answered Marie, the girl looking nervous to be talking directly to the Drule.
“It’s a wonder Gloria hasn’t plumped up from having daily access to those apple tarts of Nanny’s.” Teased Kyrie, earning giggles from the women.
“Who is this Nanny?” Lotor wanted to know. “A cook?” The women grew silent at that, and Allura busied herself by eating. Lotor looked around the table, frowning. “Did I say something wrong?”
“Nanny….Nanny is….well…” Marie shrugged. “Nanny is hard to describe.”
“She’s very nice, a warm loving soul.” Added Kyrie.
“She’s a great cook.” Gloria piped in with her seal of approval.
“Why do I get the feeling you’re leaving something out….” Lotor muttered.
“Nanny means well.” Allura began hesitantly. “But she can be a little…overbearing.”
“Only a little?” snorted Romelle. “Allura, she babies you to the point of being ridiculous about it!”
“Only because she cares about me!” defended Allura, and glanced at Lotor. “She’s been like a mother to me, since my own parents died.”
“And so you wouldn’t say a bad word about her?” wondered Lotor out loud, and Allura grew flustered.
“Something like that….” Allura said with a sigh.
“I’d like to meet her.” Lotor’s words had Allura’s eyes widening, a panicked feeling come over her.
“You won’t feel that way once you do!” warned Marie, and Lotor frowned at her.
“I’m sure anyone who helped raised Allura into the fine young woman she’s become, is someone worth my time.” Lotor’s hand slipped under the table, the prince patting Allura’s knee. She tried not to jump at the touch, even with that warm trickle of energy that left her so aware of him. “And I’m sure we’ll get along fine.” Lotor continued, as though he wasn’t stroking his fingers up Allura’s leg.
Uneasy murmurs came from the women, Romelle all but snickering. Lotor frowned, surely puzzled by the response his words had gotten. “Speaking of getting along…” Romelle leaned back in her seat, apparently finished with her meal. “Just exactly what happened between you and my cousin? You spent an awfully long time alone together.”
“N….nothing!” Allura blushed in reply. Her cousin gave her a shrewd look, not missing a beat.
“Nothing? but I am sure you said he said and did things he shouldn’t have.”
“I remember the princess’ words too.” Spoke Marie, and suddenly all eyes were on Allura. She tried not to fidget in her seat, and wasn’t help by Lotor’s fingers caressing on her thigh. “You said he was being inappropriate?”
“Ju….just a little…” stammered Allura, uncomfortable with the way the conversation had turned against her.
“Did he kiss you?” Gloria wanted to know, and the other piped in.
“Yes! Did the Drule kiss you?”
“Is that why he agreed to help us escape? Was a kiss his payment?”
Allura wasn’t sure how to answer, cheeks burning, and not daring to look at Lotor. He was calmly drinking from his glass, a slight smile playing on his lips. Surely no help would come from him, and she had the sudden horrifying thought of Lotor telling her friends just what exactly had occurred between them.
“He said that he loves you.” Kryie suddenly announced. “I heard him say that loud and clear when speaking to Princess Romelle.”
“I heard it too!” exclaimed Marie, making Allura want to crawl under the table and hide.
“Love!” sighed Gloria wistfully. “I wish I had a love that would make a man betray his own race to save me!”
“Was it love at first sight for you?” Tabitha was asking Lotor, who promptly answered.
“Yes. I knew she was for me, the moment I saw her at the lake.” He smiled. ‘”There can be no other woman now that I’ve seen Allura.”
“How romantic!” Gloria had a dreamy look in her eyes. “Love at first sight!”
Romelle was frowning during all this, and now she spoke. “You don’t really believe in this nonsense do you?” Gloria glanced at her uncertainly. “Love at first sight doesn’t exist!”
“Maybe not for you humans…” Lotor retorted. “But for we Drule…”
“Oh, like I would believe a bunch of savages could ever love!” Romelle said angrily.
“Are you going to defend them, Allura?’ Romelle demanded.
“They may be different from us, but they do have feelings.” Came her reply. “I’ve seen first hand just how strongly they feel!”
“Then you believe in his love?” Kyrie asked, and Allura blushed harder. She was saved from having to answer by the banquet room’s door being thrown open, a woman’s heavily accented voice calling out.
“My baby! Where is my baby? Oh where is the princess!”
She hardly felt at ease, mortified by Nanny’s words, even as she rose to stand up from her chair. “I’m here Nanny.” Allura called out, noting Lotor had stood up too. The woman was already rushing to them, barely taking note of anything but Allura. She was enveloped in strong arms, Nanny bear hugging her to the point she couldn’t breathe.
“I’ve been so worried!” Nanny cried, not loosening her hold. “We all have!”
“That we have.” A new man’s voice said, and Allura spied the familiar face of her advisor.
“Hello Coran!” She managed to call out, struggling to get free of Nanny’s embrace.
“Thank goodness you are safe.” Nanny said over Coran’s reply, and now she pulled back to critically look Allura over. She tsked at the bedraggled state of Allura’s hair and clothes, but otherwise could find nothing wrong with her appearance.
“I understand we have you to thank for the return of our princesses.” Coran had approached Lotor, who was nodding. Nanny turned to look at him, and it was as though she just noticed his skin color.
“Who let a Drule in MY castle?” She demanded, and began dragging Allura away from Lotor.
“Nanny, you know from Captain Darius’ report that a Drule was responsible for the rescue of the missing girls.” Coran chided her.
“I did not expect to see him sitting here. I thought he’d be thrown in a prison cell where he belongs. Where all his kind belongs!” Nanny retorted, and Lotor frowned at her.
“I take it you’re not a fan of the Drule?”
“Filthy animals, the whole lot of you!” Nanny sniffed. “The scourge of the galaxy! Coran, I don’t know why he helped the princess, but I wouldn’t trust him as far as I could throw him.”
“The issue of trusting him has yet to be resolved.” Coran said, and Lotor nodded.
“Of course. I know my people have done many bad things…you would be a fool to trust me based on just one good act.”
“We’ll never trust you, or your kind!” Nanny shouted, and Allura struggled to calm her.
“Nanny, please…Lotor is different from the others…”
“Different? That remains to be seen!” scoffed Nanny. “Coran, I demand you have him thrown into the dungeons right this instant!”
“No!” Allura said firmly. “He is friend, and a guest in this castle. I will not have him being treated with disrespect.”
“But princess…” Nanny was close to whining in that moment.
“But nothing.” Allura insisted, then looked to Coran. “Besides, we have far more important issue to be concerned with than my choice in house guests.”
“Yes, I know.” Coran sighed. “It’s all so troubling. Drule sneaking onto our planet, planning to do God knows what.”
“It’s an invasion.” Lotor chimed in, Nanny letting out a loud gasp. “My people intend to add Arus to their Empire.”
“We’ll not let them!” Nanny said furiously. “The Voltron Force will see to that!”
“The Voltron Force?” Lotor asked, looking confused.
“Our planet’s defenders.” Allura explained. “Just where is Keith and the others?”
“They were out searching for you.” Answered Coran. “They’ve since been contacted to return to the castle. I’m afraid in all their searching, they did not come across any alien ships, Drule or otherwise.”
“And they won’t.” Lotor was confidant as he spoke. “My people are too crafty for that. No doubt they are already on the move, seeking elsewhere to hide as they prepare to make their move.”
“And what exactly will they do?” Coran asked, and Lotor hesitated. “Don’t you know?”
“No doubt anything I knew about the invasion has been rendered useless.” Lotor at last answered, leaving Allura to wonder if he was telling the truth. “They would not risk my endangering the mission by telling you what they had planned.”
“Then what good are you if you can’t even tell us what we need to know?” Nanny’s words earned a sharp glare from Lotor, but it was Romelle who answered.
“I don’t know. He might make a good hostage.” She smirked then, her words earning gasps. “He is after all their prince.” Allura could only gape and glare at Romelle, the princess never having realized her cousin knew just what Lotor was. “It’s true.” Insisted Romelle. “I heard the guards address him as PRINCE Lotor.”
“We all did…” Marie said, an apologetic look aimed towards Allura.
“This could well change everything.” Coran stated.
“I will not have you using Lotor to end this invasion!” Allura snapped. “I….we owe him our lives. He saved us. He didn’t have to!”
“Why did he?” Coran asked, and Allura hesitated.
“It’s complicated….” She did not want the whole mating business and talk of love being brought up. Especially not in front of Nanny. “What matters is he did it, and without him we’d all be dead or worse.”
“It could be a trick.” Suggested Nanny. “Some Drule scheme to get him into the castle.”
“Why would they use their own prince in such a scheme?” demanded Allura. “Why not use some soldier, someone who wasn’t high up in the Drule hierarchy.” Nanny had no smart answer to that, the woman just shrugging. “Coran please…..trust me in this…”
“It’s not that I don’t trust your judgement….but….you’ve been through a horrible ordeal…”
“And my mind is no less capable of making decisions now as it was before I was captured.” Insisted Allura. “Lotor will continue to enjoy freedom as my guest.”
“For now at least.” Coran allowed with a sigh. “We still have many questions that need answering. I have some of the story from Captain Darius. But I need to get you and Prince Lotor to fill in the missing pieces of the tale.”
“Can it not wait until after we’ve all had some sleep?” Allura asked. She saw him hesitate, and threw out an earnest please. “We are all tired Coran. We’ve had next to no sleep in the last twenty-four hours.”
Coran sighed. “Very well. Nanny, have rooms prepared for all them all.”
“You’re really going to allow her to have her way?” Nanny asked, aghast.
“Why should he allow her anything?” demanded Lotor. “She is his princess! Her orders should be obeyed without question!” Nanny sputtered in reply, turning red faced at his words.
“The rooms Nanny.” Interrupted Coran. “Please.”
“Fine.” Huffed Nanny, and she pulled away from Allura. She stalked past Coran, and headed towards the door, only pausing long enough to shout out one last nasty accusation. “But don’t come complaining to me, when he stabs us all in the back while we sleep!”