The drawbridge of the castle was crowded with people, many of the men and women who worked inside the building coming out to see off the soldiers. There was an air of nervous tension to the proceedings, families gathered around individual soldiers, wishing them luck, sharing hugs and whispers of safe journeys. Allura was out on the drawbridge as well, and though she watched the antics of her people out the corner of her eye, her attention was all for Lotor.
The Drule Prince stood dressed in new clothes, the fit of them awkward at best. There had been no one in the castle as tall as Lotor, leaving the seamstresses to scramble to modify old clothing. His shirt was snug over his chest, his muscles clearly outlined, the buttons straining to pop free. What would have bagged and been long on a human was short on him, and his pants clung to his legs like a second skin.
Allura tried not to stare, instead focusing all her attention on his face. But that too had it’s perils, the girl all too aware of how handsome he was. It was almost enough to take her breath away, and she nearly turned red when Lotor turned and caught her staring at him.
“Allura!” Lotor called, stepping away from Captain Darius. She moved towards him, aware that many of the people on the drawbridge had paused to stare at the two royals now. Allura had to remind herself that there was no way they could know what had happened in her bedroom the night before, the princess ready to write off the whispers and stares as idle curiosity on the part of her people.
“Lotor…” She nodded hello to him, hands touching the front of her dress. He smiled at her, and gave a gesture that encompassed many of the soldiers spread out on the bridge.
“This is quite an impressive turn out.” He said of the thirty-five soldiers that had been selected to guard him.
“I would not send you out with anything less.” Allura replied. She had wanted to send more, but Captain Darius and Coran had told her one hundred soldiers was overdoing things, even to face the Drule. She had tried arguing, pointing out they still didn’t know if Lotor was heading into an ambush, but had been talked down from her desires. “I want you to be safe.”
“I will be.” Lotor assured her. “I am not without skills of my own.” He patted the pommel of his sword, the belt being the only thing he wore from his own clothing.
“I am well aware that you are a capable fighter.” Allura said, remembering his actions onboard the Drule war ship.
“I sense a but coming on.” Lotor teased. She didn’t smile, instead sighing. “Allura, I’ll be okay. I have thirty-five armed men with me, including Captain Darius. We are going to scout out the area far in advance, and make sure no traps lie in wait for us. Nothing will go wrong.”
“I’d feel better if I could go with you.” She blurted out, and he smiled.
“Allura, we’ve been over this. It’s too dangerous for you. What’s more, it would be distracting for me, I’d be far too worried about your safety to do anything else.” He lifted his hand, then seemed to change his mind, as though conscious of the people staring at them. She didn’t care, grabbing his hand with hers, fingers pushing a small ring into his grasp. He looked surprised, taking a look at the ring in his hand. “What’s this?”
“For luck.” Allura told him, trying not to blush too badly. “So that you carry a piece of me with you that may keep you safe.” She had no idea if he believed in such charms, but she felt a small burden lift off her shoulders in giving him that ring.
“I will keep it close to my heart.” Lotor deposited the ring into the front pocket of his borrowed shirt.
There was no more reason to delay him, Allura could see Captain Darius looking towards them, an anxious frown on his face. The captain was being polite, not intruding on their conversation, but his looks relayed the urgency he felt to leave. “You better go.” Allura said, and gave a nod in Darius’ direction. The captain returned it, and began gathering up the soldiers with a few shouted out orders.
“I hope to bring back good news to you.” Lotor told her, and she gave him a serious look.
“Just bring yourself back to me.” A weak smile followed those words, Allura stepping back. “Safe journey Lotor.”
“Safe journey…” he repeated, seeming as reluctant to part as she was.
“We’re wasting daylight!” Captain Darius shouted, and Lotor finally stepped away from Allura. He didn’t break into a run, walking with his head held high as he went to fall into formation with the soldiers. They surrounded him in two half circles, keeping him guarded well. Captain Darius led the group, the men following him at a brisk pace as they moved off the draw bridge.
For the longest time she stood there, just staring after Lotor and the soldiers. She wasn’t the only one waiting to see them fade from sight, the people gathered on the draw bridge standing in small groups, talking about the mission or the impending battles. They even approached Allura, asking her what her thoughts were on the situation with the Drule.
“How can we trust them?” asked one old woman, and the others took up the cry.
“How can we allow one to walk amongst us?”
Allura tried to calm them down as best she could, though inwardly she could admit to herself she had similar doubts. She hadn’t forgotten that the Drule had come to Arus with a specific goal in mind, that Lotor himself had been leading them with the intent to invade her planet. Allura was well aware that the connection Lotor felt to her was the real reason the Drule Prince had changed his plans.
She wasn’t trying to delude herself into thinking otherwise, Allura knowing if he hadn’t decided she was his mate, he have continued the invasion. She wasn’t sure though, where those Drule defectors came in, Allura trying not to get her hopes up that so many of them would be willing to turn their back on their King’s plans. There was still so little she understood when it came to Drules and their ideas of love and mates, Allura amazed at the thought that they could hold such things so sacred as to be bothered at the thought of what was being done to Lotor.
She certainly wasn’t ready to explain to her people about Drules and their mates, certainly not while she didn’t have a good grasp of the concept herself. She also wasn’t sure what their reaction would be, especially to the news that one of the Drules had claimed her for his mate. So she just smiled and tried to assure her people of Lotor’s sincerity, trying not to twitch in anger at some of the suspicions they raised.
“He’s betraying his own people…if he can do that, think how quickly he’ll turn on us!” A man cried.
“This could be nothing but a Drule trap.” Said another. “He’s gain entrance to our castle, access to our people…”
“I heard from my son he’s even part of the planning for the war!” sniffed a woman who couldn’t be more than fifty. Allura tried to put a name to the face, thinking she recognized the woman as one of the soldier’s mothers.
“He’s been let in on Arus secrets?” The people were alarmed now. “Why he could be meeting with those Drules to tell them what we’ve got planned!”
“Calm down.” Allura said, amidst the frantic conversation. “I doubt he’s going to be spilling secrets with our soldiers present.”
“How can you be so sure princess?” The man surely didn’t mean his insulting tone, brown eyes more worried than angry. “All he need do is speak that funny language of theirs, and our soldiers wouldn’t be the wiser.”
“Captain Darius wouldn’t allow that.” Allura quickly replied. “He knows to insist on Basic being spoken at the meeting.” The crowd seemed mollified at that, settling down though they still looked frightened and worried. “Please…..have fate in my judgment. I believe in Lotor and his intentions towards Arus. He’s already given us valuable information that may help us win this war. And he rescued my cousin and friends from the Drule. He did not have to do those things.”
“Aye, and we’re grateful for him for bringing our women back.” An old man said, leaning heavily on his cane.
“It’s not that we don’t trust you princess or your decisions…” A woman began, expression troubled. “But…we’re scared…”
“Arus hasn’t had a war in decades.” Added another woman, and the people nodded. Some of them were old enough to have lived through the last war Arus had seen. She couldn’t blame them for being scared, knowing they surely bore scars both physical and emotional, from the fighting they had endured.
“We have capable men and women trained for battle.” Allura replied. “They will do their best not to fail us during this troubling time. Please….I know you’re worried, about your family and your land. Arus didn’t choose this war, but we will be the ones to emerge victorious. ”
They still looked uneasy, but they let her pass, Allura hearing the murmur of conversation behind her as the people wondered what they would do during the fighting. It was a good question, one that had Allura thinking hard as she headed back inside the castle. She knew that many of the homes, especially the farmsteads, had underground cellars. Many would hide in there, but she could help, opening the castle up to those who did not have an alternative place to stay during the war.
She also knew the people of the farms were being busy, hurriedly picking any crop that was ripe, in order to prevent a total loss of produce when the fighting started. Even at the castle, the maids were busy working to can the food, all in an attempt to preserve the goods for the foreseeable future. Allura just hoped the fighting wouldn’t last long enough for them to have to make use of the food that was being stored in the castle’s cellar.
The castle’s storage rooms were vast, Allura knew that the cellars would be able to hold enough food to last them weeks. She hoped the fighting wouldn’t last that long, and wondered if her hopes were foolish. Especially given the size of the Drule armada. She had yet to see the ships for herself, hearing only about their size and numbers from Lotor, but it was awe inspiring numbers. The Drule had come set to force Arus into submission, and had the power to do it. Allura had no doubt if not for Lotor’s aide, Arus would have been in trouble for sure.
She sighed, and wondered about the meeting, knowing he had probably not yet arrived at the designated spot. She wondered if the Drules that had contacted him were also on their way, if they thought to scout out the area in advance. She hoped they were legitimate, Allura not wanting to think what would happen if this was all a trap to get to Lotor.
Once again Allura found herself wishing she had been allowed to send more men with him, though in truth the only thing that would have made her feel better is if she were by Lotor’s side. She sighed, and nearly bumped into the figure that stepped out before her, Allura drawing back startled. She saw it was her cousin, the blonde’s eyes narrowing as she looked Allura over.
“We need to talk.” Romelle announced, and before Allura could do more than sputter in response, her cousin had grabbed her by the arm. A less than polite jerk had Allura moving, Romelle leading her down the corridor.
“Talk about what?” Allura asked, practically having to jog to keep up with Romelle’s brisk pace. Romelle just made a rude sound, not answering Allura’s question. Not until she found an empty room, dragging Allura inside.
She found herself in one of the elegantly appointed tea rooms, a chamber that she often used for entertaining small groups of guests. But she felt certain Romelle wasn’t in the mood to entertain, not with the angry looks her cousin was shooting her. Allura fidgeted in place, making no move to sit. “What?” She asked, staring back at her cousin, and wondering why she was in so foul a mood. “What is it?”
Romelle stared at her for a long moment before answering, letting out a deep breath. “It’s about that Drule…”
“Lotor? What about him?” Allura wanted to know.
“Don’t you think you are being a little too friendly to him?” A question instead of an answer, Romelle looking upset.
“Too friendly?” Allura tried not to blush, remembering the moment in the garden, and more importantly the night in her bedroom. But she knew to the people around her, all they had seen was Allura holding hands with Lotor, as she took him around the castle. “No…no I don’t think so.”
“Really?” Romelle lifted an eyebrow, her look such that it worried Allura. She immediately set to wondering what Romelle could know, and tried to remain firm so as not to betray anything to her cousin.
“Really.” Allura insisted, and thought she saw Romelle’s eye twitch. “I’ve only been showing him Arusian hospitality…” She was defensive as she added that, Romelle letting out a humorless snort.
“I had no idea Arusian hospitality extended to late night visits in one’s bedroom.” Allura felt sure she had paled at Romelle’s words, but she tittered nervously in response.
“I’m not sure I know what you’re talking about…”
“Allura, I KNOW.” Ominous words from Romelle, Allura blinking rapidly in an attempt to mask her true feelings.
“I saw it!” continued Romelle, voice a loud exclamation. “I saw him leaving your room. This morning. Through the window.” Allura reeled back, each word like a bullet straight to the heart.
“Are you sure you were not dreaming?” Allura asked, wondering what Romelle was doing up so early.
“Trust me it was no dream. More like a nightmare!” Romelle said bitterly.
“I’m sure you imagined it….” Allura began, and Romelle interrupted with an angry shout.
“I did not! I saw him bold as can be, traveling the ledges, climbing floors! Just what was he doing in your bedroom so early? How long had he been there? Why did you not call for the guards?!” Allura reeled back from the barrage of questions, stuttering nervously.
“I…I…calm down Romelle! Your voice is too loud!”
“I want to know Allura! Just what is he up to?” A look then, Romelle’s eyes narrowing further. “You can’t even look me in the eyes! What did he do to you?!”
“He did nothing!” Allura retorted, feeling her face grow hot. “He was merely visiting me.”
“He has an odd concept of time to visit a lady so late, and in her bedroom!” snapped Romelle.
“It was harmless really.” Allura replied. “We just….talked a while…”
“About what?” She wasn’t prepared for that question, Allura shrugging. “Allura, what does that Drule want from you?! Besides the obvious!”
“The obvious?” Allura was confused.
“Your body!” Romelle explained, Allura’s cheeks coloring in response. “He’s been after it since he took us aboard that Drule warship!”
“That’s not entirely true…” Allura whispered.
“Oh? Isn’t it?” Romelle sighed. “Allura, he’s said he loves you to me. Why would he say such a thing?!”
“You don’t believe him?” Allura asked, and Romelle shook her head.
“He just met you. And it’s not so strange that a man would lie of love to get a woman into his bed.”
“Lotor’s not like that.” Romelle snorted out her disbelief. “Not with me at any rate.” Allura amended, not knowing what Lotor’s behavior towards women had been like before meeting her.
“Oh? And what makes you so special to him?” Romelle demanded.
Allura licked her lips nervously. “Romelle…you may want to sit down.” Her cousin remained standing, folding her arms across her chest. “The Drule…are different from we humans.”
“That’s an understatement!” Romelle laughed under her breath.
“They have…different concepts of love…alien notions that will seem strange to you.” Continued Allura.
“Oh? And you know all about it?” Romelle had raised an eyebrow at that. Allura nodded.
“Yes..you see…and you have to promise me this goes no farther than this room…” Allura paused, waiting for Romelle’s promise.
“Fine….I promise.” Romelle seemed unconcerned with the promise, but Allura continued to speak.
“I don’t understand it completely myself but…Lotor has told me that every Drule has one destined person. A lover just for them. Their whole world exists around their other half, they’d do anything for them.” Romelle was looking doubtful and amused at what Allura was saying. “They call these person’s mates, and somehow…something in the Drule DNA just clicks. They lose their hearts when they find their mate…”
“Come on Allura, you don’t really believe in that do you?!” Romelle was rolling her eyes. “Next you’ll be telling me your Lotor’s mate.” She gasped when Allura said nothing, mouth hanging open in shock. “NO! Is that what he told you?!”
“I’m afraid so…”
“You can’t believe it!” Romelle insisted. “It’s just a line he’s using to get close to you!”
“I don’t believe it is.” Allura said, shaking her head no. “I’ve seen him say and do too many things…things that make no sense if I am not his mate. Romelle, he helped us escape…he went to rescue you and the other women all because I asked him too.”
“It could be a trick to gain access to the castle…” Romelle replied.
“I don’t think so. I saw him when those Drules tried to take me from him. He went wild with rage to protect me. But there’s more!”
“More?!” Romelle repeated, tone disbelieving.
“He could have just taken what he wanted from me while we were onboard the Drule ship. Romelle, he had ample time to rape me. But he didn’t. He respected me when I told him no…” She was blushing, remembering those moments and how wild Lotor had looked, driven by his desires. “He was more than kind to me. He was patient and understanding…”
Romelle was staring at her like she had sprouted another head. “He’s trying so hard…” Allura continued, unnerved by Romelle’s stare. “He’s done so much, been branded a traitor by his people, disowned by his father. And all because he’s in love with me…”
Romelle had dropped down in a chair, still staring at Allura, almost looking horrified in the moment. Allura shifted from foot to foot, trying not to fidget so badly. “Say something!”
“What can I say?” Romelle whispered. “It sounds like you believe him. And what’s more…it sounds like you’re starting to love him back…”
“I don’t know about that…” Allura denied, embarrassed. “I’m just…open to exploring my feelings towards him.”
“Open? What does that mean?” Romelle demanded, and Allura shrugged.
“It means…well, we talk, spend time together. Get to know one another.” There was no way she was going to admit to kissing Lotor, and spending a night being petted all over by him! Certainly not to her cousin, who liable to tell the whole castle what was going on under their noses.
“You sound as though you are halfway there to falling in love with him.” Romelle said, a shrewd look in her eye. Allura colored, and shook her head no, and Romelle sighed. “Denial at it’s best. I know you Allura. You wouldn’t be giving him a chance like this if you didn’t have feelings for him.”
“I sense a but coming on…” muttered Allura.
“Good, because I have plenty of those!” Romelle told her. “You’re young, and you’ve never been in love. You can’t let some alien sweep in and confuse you..”
“He’s not!” protested Allura.
“You feel sorry for him, for what he’s lost.” Continued Romelle as though Allura had not spoken. “You see what he’s doing for you, the lengths he has gone. He’s forced you into a closeness when aboard his ship, and you two went through a trying time in escaping from the other Drule.”
“And your point is what exactly?” Allura asked flatly.
“That you need to be sure you’re not confusing gratitude and the excitement of the escape for love.”
“I’m not.” Insisted Allura.
“Are you? You’ve never gone through anything like this…”
“Neither have you!” Allura pointed out. “You’ve never even been kissed!” That got Romelle flushing in embarrassed anger.
“I don’t need to be kissed to know these feelings are dangerous for you.”
“Dangerous how?” Allura wanted to know.
“They’re confusing you, clouding your judgment!” Romelle exclaimed. “You shouldn’t be so quick to trust him. Even now…”
“But he’s doing everything to help us win this war. He’s told Drule military secrets to us. and helped us plan how to combat them. Even now he’s meeting with potential defectors who may join his cause to help Arus. I think you and my people are too quick to judge him!”
“Allura, if what you told me about the Drule mating thing is true, then Lotor is only doing these nice things because you’re important to him. If you weren’t his mate, you’d be his enemy.” Romelle pointed out, and a cold feeling settled on Allura.
“I know that.” She whispered, and Romelle gave her a sympathetic look.
“I don’t want to upset you. I just want you to be careful!”
“I will…I am.” Allura insisted.
“By letting him into your bedroom?” Romelle demanded tartly. Allura said nothing, which had her cousin muttering. “I ought to tell Nanny about that!”
“No don’t!” Allura protested, knowing she would never hear the end of it if Nanny found out about Lotor’s late night visit. “She’ll throw him in the dungeons for sure!”
“Maybe that’s where he belongs.” Romelle retorted, and Allura frowned at her. “You’re never going to believe he’s bad, are you? Fine…I guess it’s up to me to prove otherwise!”
“Prove? Prove how?” Allura was confused.
“Well, for starters, I think WE should go to that meeting of his.” Romelle looked devious. “I’m sure we can find something out that will let us know if he’s really good or bad…”
“Like what?” Allura wanted to know.
“I dunno yet. But one way or another, I’m going to that meeting. Are you in?”
Allura did want to go, but she hesitated. “They’ll never let us get close enough. And I doubt Coran would let us leave the castle at this time!”
“Coran…hmph.” Romelle didn’t look concerned about that. “He’s easily managed. Besides, he doesn’t HAVE to know.”
“Lie to Coran?” Allura was astounded.
“It wouldn’t be a lie, we just wouldn’t tell him what we’re doing.”
“And that is what Romelle?” Allura asked, and Romelle’s gaze turned even craftier.
“Why a simple horse ride out on the property of course.” Allura still hesitated, and Romelle sighed. “It’s either that or we go have a chat with Nanny…”
“I’ll race you to the stables.” Came Allura’s immediate response, not waiting for her cousin to stand up. Already heading out of the room, she could only hope Lotor wouldn’t be too mad at her when she appeared at the meeting place with her cousin.