The newly arrived Drules were waiting for them inside one of the larger offices on the first floor, the group composed of three men and one woman. They rose from their seats at Lotor and Allura’s arrival, offering low bows of respect. Lotor acknowledge this show with an incline of his head, the Drules straightening after a few seconds. The tallest of the Drules, a man who seemed to tower over Lotor by a good seven inches in height, approached the royal pair.
It was to Allura’s surprise, that the man offered one more bow, keeping his eyes locked on her face. “It is good to meet you, your highness.” The tall Drule said, and she quickly gestured for him to stand up. “I am General Pardust.”
“Please…it is I who should be bowing to you!” Allura exclaimed, flustered when the Drule laughed good-naturedly. “You did help us out tremendously with the war. We might not have been successful otherwise…” The Drules were smiling, seeming amused by her words. “At the very least, it probably wouldn’t have ended so quickly…”
“That we can all agree with.” Lotor said, and she glanced at him. He smiled at her, but then turned a serious look to the General, the two men exchanging hand shakes. “Thank you for coming.”
“I would have been here sooner, but there was things to take care of. And I understand you were busy recovering from an illness.” Pardust looked Lotor over, seeming to nod to himself that the prince no longer looked sick.
“Yes…It was unfortunate, but the wound I received from that traitorous snake Morduck got infected.” Lotor tapped a finger against his bandaged palm. “It’s to my regret that now I must play catch up on all that has gone on while I was recovering.”
“Then let me help you in that area.” Pardust gestured for the woman to step forward, Allura noting she was removing a thick sheaf of papers from a briefcase. “This here is a tally of all the resources we have managed to secure on the heels of Morduck’s defeat. We won’t be wanting for much when it comes to ships and the parts needed to maintain them.”
“No…” agreed Lotor, taking the file from the red haired female. “It’ll just be the soldiers to fly them that will give us difficulties.” He started flipping through the pages, Allura spying the exotic looking writing of the Drule covering the paper.
“We’ll get the man power…” Pardust was confidant as he spoke, Lotor glancing up from the papers. “I’ve already had my people get to work on assembling a list of potential allies to contact. Several key figures from the high court are listed, well known names with the power, money and resources to back you.”
“We thought it would be best if you, yourself would contact these men and women.” One of the other two Drule males was speaking. “They won’t be so quick to dismiss a call from their prince, and most would be wise to curry favor with the future King of Doom.”
“Do not get ahead of yourself.” Lotor warned. “I haven’t won the throne yet.”
“But you will!” exclaimed the Drule. “We have the utmost faith in you and the resources at our disposal that victory will come to us.”
“You must excuse Deactno.” Pardust smiled with good humor. “He is overzealous at times.”
“So I see…” Lotor replied, glancing down at another section of the file he had been handed. “These names here. Am I to assume these are soldiers who we intend to ransom off to the highest bidder?”
“Yes.” Confirmed Pardust at the same time Allura spoke.
“What do you mean, highest bidder?”
“Ah…” Lotor seemed reluctant to answer, giving her a considering look. “We do intend to ransom these men and women off to their families first. However, if they will not or cannot pay, there are others who might be willing.”
“And that includes any enemies they might have had.” Pardust added, and she shivered at the thought. “Fear not princess, I doubt it will come to that. We only intend to ransom off those from well known families, and these people are more than capable of paying our demands.”
“It’s better than outright killing them.” Added the female Drule, and Allura had to agree with that.
“Has there been word of any of the prisoners willing to defect to our side?” Lotor asked, and Pardust gave a graceful shrug of his shoulders.
“We have of course made inquiries, but so far we have nothing to show for our efforts. Perhaps in time….”
“Could we even trust those who fought against Arus?” interrupted Allura. She was rewarded with a smile, as though Pardust was pleased by the smarts she was showing. “I mean….how can we trust that they wouldn’t turn against us at the first available opportunity…?”
“We can’t.” Lotor said. “There are some that would be eager to say and do anything to get out of the holding cells. Such men would be more apt to do sabotage to our campaign.”
“They would be placed under strict watch.” Added Pardust. “And given low level tasks where there would be little opportunity to do damage.”
“They’d be treated like less than slaves.” The female Drule looked disdainful at the thought. “It’s not surprising that we’ve had no takers to our inquiries.”
“I see…” Allura murmured softly.
“How many men and women do we have on our side at present time?” Lotor asked, setting aside the paper work.
“Nearly thirty-five hundred.” Pardust answered. “Our losses weren’t that great…it is the benefit of a surprise attack.”
Thirty-five hundred sounded like a lot to Allura, the girl impressed with the numbers. Until Lotor explained that the Drule Armada had had around twelve thousand Drules manning the individual ships. She couldn’t help but sag at the news, wondering how many had died, and knowing Arus couldn’t hope to give even half that number to Lotor’s war campaign.
“Don’t look so down Allura. We’ll get the people needed. Count on it.” Lotor tried to reassure her, but she couldn’t even muster up a weak smile.
“Arus will do what it can to help…but I’m afraid it won’t nearly be enough….”
“Every little bit counts.” Lotor told her, and took hold of her hand. They laced their fingers together, Allura noting the Drules pay close attention to this gesture of closeness.
“I pray that you are right.” She murmured, feeling him squeeze her hand.
“We have things to decide.” Pardust said with a clearing of his throat. She glanced his way, seeing the serious look in his eyes. Lotor nodded for the man to continue, not letting go of Allura’s hand. “As of right now, King Zarkon does not know that he has lost the war with Arus. I have been able to allay his worries, and fill his head with my lies. He actually thinks we are winning..” A chuckle then, all five Drules looking amused. “However….once his highness starts making calls…word is bound to reach his father’s ears…”
“He has spies everywhere.” Added the female. “Even in the homes of the various Lords and Ladies of the court.”
“And then there is the fact that some we approach may not choose to ally with us.” Continued Pardust. “No doubt those who refuse our request for aid will go to King Zakron straight away, to tell them what the prince is plotting.”
“They won’t be able to resist the chance to use this knowledge to curry favor with my father.” Lotor complained with a growl.
“So once he knows, Arus’ moment of peace will be over?” Allura asked, worriedly.
“Not quite. He will have to call back his ships from other worlds. That will take time…he will be scrambling for allies and soldiers, having spent an obscene amount of resources on this failed invasion of Arus. We have worked out a timetable that if followed strictly will allow us to begin the attacks on Doom, preventing Zarkon from launching his own forces against us here.”
Pardust seemed to have thought of everything, leaving Allura to stare at him amazed. He noticed the look of awe in her eyes, and chuckled, the Drule allowing a bit of ego to show. “The people who work under me are nothing short of the best. We have turned over every angle, in an attempt to ease our prince’s burdens.”
“I see…” Allura said, no less impressed.
“It’s better we work it so we bring the fight to Doom.” Lotor said to nods all around. “It would be disastrous if we had to split our focus, defending Arus and fighting my father’s forces to get to Doom.”
“Zarkon will no doubt throw everything he can muster at us.” Pardust sighed. “Even with my calculations, it will be a close battle, full of hardships and difficulties.”
She didn’t want to hear doubts about the course they were planning, Allura trying not to show her upset. Lotor noticed anyway, and drew her against his side, an arm going around her. “Fear not Allura.” He said. “We will win because we HAVE to.”
Allura kept quiet about the fact that need did not always ensure a victory, the princess trying to hold back the shiver that went through her. Lotor and the other Drules began to talk in more detail about their plans, and it was then that Allura excused herself. It wasn’t that she was bored by the talk, but she felt she was holding them back if they had to constantly pause to reassure and soothe away her fears.
She was nervous about this impending campaign, knowing that everything rode on Lotor’s shoulders. He had to win, he had to gather a strong enough military presence to gain the victory they so desperately needed to ensure peace was retained on Arus. Allura knew she herself wouldn’t have true peace of mind until all this was over, and Lotor sat on the throne of Doom. Till then she’d worry incessantly, and not just about the battles, but about Lotor himself!
They hadn’t discussed it yet, but Allura wondered just where Lotor would be during this war. Would he remain behind on Arus, and watch the battle from the safety of the castle? Or, would he insist on going on one of the ships, and partaking in the actual fighting? She feared he would choose the latter, and Allura didn’t even want to think about how that easily lent itself to the potential of his death.
She shuddered at the thought of becoming a widow, Allura looking for something to distract her mind from such troubling thoughts. There was a few issues she had been neglecting, all in order to spend time tending to Lotor during his illness. Such as the breaking of the news of certain soldier’s deaths to the families that survived the men and women.
It was not something Allura was looking forward to, and she knew that any day now they would have a complete listing of those who had died to protect the planet. An official memorial would need to be planned, the proceedings officiated by Allura herself. It would be cold comfort to the widows, but their dead husbands and wives would be honored.
There was even a few familiar names who Allura had known personally, good people who she had grown up with, who had watched over her as the years passed by. Men and women she felt it was her duty to personally break the news of their deaths to their families. It was better to do this sooner, than to allow the families’ false hope of their loved one’s survival.
On a happier note, there would also be a celebration of Arus’ victory, the soldier’s individual accomplishments recognized. Medals would be awarded, soldier’s being decorated and advanced in their military career. Allura much preferred to be pinning medals on chests, rather than breaking the somber news of someone’s death.
But these thoughts weren’t helping to shake Allura out of her somber mood, the princess frowning to herself as she walked through the castle corridors. Perhaps the troubled look on her face kept the people inside the castle from bothering her, for she noted with some surprise that no one approached her with any concerns or idle gossip. She was actually relieved, not wanting to be bothered by those seeking to dig up more dirt about her fight with Nanny.
She wondered how Nanny was choosing to deal with the knowledge that Allura was in a serious relationship with prince Lotor. No doubt she was haranguing the castle servants, ordering them about to clean already impeccably neat rooms. She should have been excited, Allura daring to think Nanny should have been happy for her. She was getting married! Not for political gain, but for love. And that alone should have made Nanny happy. Even happy enough to help Allura plan and arrange the ceremony, the princess feeling overwhelmed and not sure where to start with the preparations
~Perhaps I should look for a dress.~ Allura thought to herself, thinking that would be a good start. But before she set off to the castle seamstresses’ work room, she went looking for her cousin, Allura wanting to drag Romelle along for the decision making process. ~And perhaps I can talk some sense into her at the same time.~ She thought with a determined slant to her eyes.
She found Romelle sitting in one of the studies, a magazine spread open on her lap. She could tell by her cousin’s distant gaze that Romelle’s attention wasn’t on the magazine, the princess looking subdued in the moment. Occasionally she’d turn a page, letting a sigh escape her lips.
“Romelle…” Allura closed the door behind her, and her cousin blinked, slowly chasing away that far away look of hers.
“Yes, Allura? What is it?” asked Romelle, closing the magazine.
“I was wondering…” Allura stepped closer to Romelle’s chair, a half smile on her face. “Would you come with me? I want to get a dress prepared for my wedding. You should get a new dress as well.” She added, trying to entice Romelle, who barely reacted to the thought of a new dress. That was troubling, Romelle was always up for getting new clothing.
“A new dress….I guess…” Romelle said, her voice listless. She made no move to stand up. Allura looked at her curiously, noting with some surprise her blue eyes were rimmed with red.
“Romelle, have you been crying?!”
“What?! NO!” Romelle shook her head, denying the accusation. “It’s just my allergies acting up.”
Allura fixed her with a disbelieving look, one that had Romelle shifting uncomfortably. “You’ve haven’t had an allergy one day in your life!”
“So it’s a late in life development.” Romelle insisted on keeping up the charade, but Allura refused to buy it.
“Romelle…cousin…talk to me. Tell me what’s on your mind.” Allura took the seat besides Romelle, and fixed her with her most attentive look. It seemed to make her cousin uncomfortable, Romelle glancing down at the magazine on her lap. “You cried earlier.” She added, watching Romelle carefully for her reactions. “When I talked to you about Drules and their mating….”
A sigh was her answer, Romelle seeming content to maintain her silence. It made Allura impatient, the princess shifting about in her seat. “Lotor spoke with Sabbath…”
“Did he now?” At Allura’s nod, Romelle seemed to hesitate, her uncertainty showing. “How is he?”
Allura thought it promising that Romelle would care enough to inquire after the Drule’s well being. “He’s rather…depressed.”
“Depressed…” repeated Romelle, and Allura nodded.
“But then…who can blame him. His heart has been broken.” A flash of blue, Romelle’s gaze darting upwards at those words. Just as quickly, she looked away, but not before Allura saw Romelle bite her bottom lip. “You should go see him.” She added, and that had Romelle whipping around to stare at Allura. “It will do you both some good.”
“No, it will not.” Romelle shook her head. “No good can come of my visiting that Drule.”
“Why? Are you afraid you’ll hurt him even more?” asked Allura, and Romelle looked at her aghast.
“Hurt him?!” A nervous titter of sound escaped her. “I don’t know what you mean. It is not I who hurt the Drule…he only inflicts misery on himself by continuing to pursue me. He could save himself a lot of trouble by looking elsewhere for….affection.”
Allura almost smiled as she listened to the rapid fire assault of words, Romelle far too defensive for her own good. “But you know right? You know that a Drule who has found his mate can’t give up on her. They fall in love, helplessly so….”
Romelle looked like she didn’t want to hear those words, shaking her head no again and again. “Sabbath is mistaken about me…”
“Who are you trying to convince of that?” Allura wondered out loud. “Me? Or yourself?” That earned a sharp look from Romelle, but Allura didn’t back down. “Oh cousin, how long are you going to keep up this charade?”
“Charade? I don’t know what you mean…”
“I think you do.” Insisted Allura. “Don’t you wonder what Sabbath told Lotor?” Romelle actually paled, staring at Allura. She waited for her cousin to say something, to give her a chance to come clean on her own. But Romelle’s lips flattened into a thin line, the girl refusing to speak. “Oh Romelle…” Allura sighed. “I know.”
“What do you think you know?” Romelle demanded harshly.
“I know about you and Sabbath and what happened between you two when you were trapped.” Allura clarified. Romelle started to rise from her seat, magazine falling to the floor.
“It’s a lie!” Romelle snapped, Allura staring wide eyed up at her cousin. “Whatever Sabbath told Lotor….it’s nothing but lies!”
“Is it?” Allura shook her head. “Romelle, Sabbath didn’t need to tell Lotor anything. Lotor could SMELL you on him.”
“That’s…that’s disgusting!” Romelle exclaimed, looking mortified. “They’re no better than animals, sniffing out things that is best left alone!” She ran an agitated hand through her hair, her expression no less calm. “Honestly Allura, how can you stand it when Lotor does something like that?!”
“It used to embarrass me…” She admitted. “Sometimes it still does…but I accept that the Drules have a stronger sense of smell than we humans. There should be no shame in that, no perceived insult!” Romelle frowned at her, looking unconvinced of that. Allura wasn’t about to get distracted from the original subject, the princess calmly gesturing for her cousin to sit back down. “I understand you’re having Sabbath hide the relationship between you two….”
“There is no relationship!” Romelle cried out an interruption. “It was just…” she lowered her voice, seeming paranoid of being overhead. “Just sex.”
“Just sex?! With a Drule who is your mate?!” Allura made a tsking sound, giving Romelle a chiding look. “Oh cousin, there is no such thing as just sex between mates.”
Romelle practically vibrated with her agitation, rising to her feet once more. “So I heard.” She said sourly, pacing over to a window. Allura stayed where she sat, gazing at Romelle’s back.
“How did it happen?”
“What? Didn’t Sabbath spill all to Lotor?” Romelle demanded, sarcasm apparent in her tone.
“If he has, Lotor wasn’t exactly forthcoming with the details.” Allura admitted. “He only confirmed enough to me that you and Sabbath were intimate during your time trapped inside that room.” Romelle said nothing to that, but the stiffness of her shoulders betrayed her agitation. “I must admit to being curious about how it happened. Especially since you seem so adamant in denying it ever happened.”
“I made a mistake…” Romelle finally said after several moments of silence. “I let my guard down, let myself get carried away. I regret what happened, but know there’s nothing I can do to change the past. I can only look towards the future…a future without that Drule in my life.”
“It’s not that simple and I think you know that!” Allura exclaimed, disappointed that Romelle wasn’t going into further details about what had hapened. “Sabbath loves you…he wants a future with you…Romelle…this is not going to go away on it’s own. You have to face what is happening.”
“And just what do you think is happening, cousin?” Romelle had turned, arching one eyebrow at Allura. “It’s not love…I can tell you that much!”
“But there is an attraction there!” Romelle made a scoffing sound, of which Allura tried to ignore. “Romelle, don’t try to play this off as some every day occurrence. I know you…you’re not the type to sleep around….there had to be some spark of feeling for you to give in to, in order to be swept away by passion.” Romelle looked sullen then, still shaking her head in stubborn denial. “Can you not build on that spark…? Explore a relationship with him?”
“But I don’t want a relationship with him!” protested Romelle.
“Maybe not yet.” Agreed Allura, seeing the wary way Romelle eyed her. “I was like you at first too. Adamant in my determination that nothing more develop between Lotor and me.”
“And now I suppose you’re going to tell me how wrong you were to think that way?” Romelle asked, and Allura could not tell if she was being sarcastic or not.
“Well….yes. Romelle, I wasted a lot of time shutting my heart off from Lotor. I can only be glad that such foolishness only occurred for a handful of days.”
“You had a lot of feelings to process in a short amount of time…” noted her cousin. “How can you even be sure its love that you feel for Lotor?”
“Oh it’s love….the feelings I have for him are unmistakable as anything else.” Allura smiled, thinking fondly of her husband. “And who knows! If you get to know Sabbath, you may discover you have more than just a glimmer of attraction to him! What would it hurt to try?” She added, staring imploringly at Romelle. “It would cost you nothing, and could give you so much in return…”
“And what about Sabbath?” Romelle asked sharply. “From what I understand he’s locked into this because of whatever genetic defect plagues the Drules into having mates. Won’t it be cruel to tease him with hope, when I have no intention of allowing a deeper bond to form?”
“It would be crueler not to try…” Allura told her, sadness filling her every word and expression. “I may not know nearly enough about Drules and this mating instinct of theirs, but….he is suffering now. He needs you…perhaps more than you need him. I don’t know what happens to a Drule whose mate rejects him permanently…..this is undocumented territory…They die when their mates die…did you know that Romelle?” She didn’t wait for her cousin to answer, pressing on ruthlessly. “The ones who survive their mate’s death are just a broken shell…a soul withering away as it waits for the body to die.”
Romelle had crossed her arms over her chest, hugging herself as she stared down at the floor. Allura couldn’t tell, but she wondered if a shiver went through Romelle at those words.
“It’s too big a burden.” Her cousin said at last. “I don’t want to exist as someone’s everything, to the point they can’t, won’t live without me!”
“It’s too late to run from it…from him.” Allura replied.
“Oh yes, because sex is such a binding thing to mated Drules!” Romelle’s anger had flared, her blue eyes shining with it. “I wish someone would have told me before hand that little tidbit of information! Maybe then…”
“You sound as if you’re not even sure you would have been able to stop from sleeping with him even if you had known!” Allura pointed out, more than a little exasperated.
“I didn’t plan it…it just happened.” Came her defensive reply.
“Just how did it happen then?” Allura wanted to know, watching as Romelle turned red.
“I don’t inquire into the details about what you did with that Drule of yours!” Allura blushed then, knowing she’d be hesitant to share all the steamy details with another person, even if that other person was her cousin.
“Please Romelle…just give me the minimum of details…” Allura begged, and Romelle turned her back to her. She thought her cousin wasn’t going to answer, Romelle staring out the window for several long moments.
“We were talking…” She began, than shook her head no. “Talking is too mild for what we were doing. We were arguing, fighting back and forth with words, our anger building. It seemed his patience had reached an end, and I can remember him grabbing me.” A sigh then, though Allura couldn’t tell if it was a good sound or not for Romelle. “He kissed me then….I’m not sure what he was thinking…heck, I’m not sure I was thinking that clearly either…but things escalated from that kiss, spiraling out of control and into the mess we’re in now.”
A pause, and then Romelle was turning to look at her once more. “Oh Allura, the next day was awful! He was talking about things…about loving me, and the house he wanted to build for us. Talking as though I had made a commitment to him….When I had not!” Her look turned defensive, Romelle practically daring Allura to object by the look in her eyes. “I didn’t know about the sex…didn’t know it would make him think things were different between us! You have to believe me!”
“Calm down, I do.” Allura soothed her with soft words. “Sabbath was wrong not to tell you how deep a connection mated Drules make with sex.” Romelle looked relieved to hear that, though it didn’t last. “But…I still think you need to give him a chance.”
“You’ve not listened to my reasons why I can’t!” Romelle fumed, stamping a foot on the floor.
“What would it cost you to spend some time with him?!” Allura demanded, voice equally as loud as her cousin’s. “I’m not asking you to have sex with him again, just talk…”
“Oh, because talking was such a safe activity last time!” Romelle said sarcastically.
“If you can’t keep your hands off him long enough to hold one conversation…” Allura was fighting a smirk, the smile twitching at the corners of her mouth.
“You’re making fun of me now!” accused Romelle, eyes flashing with anger. Allura immediately sobered, trying for an apologetic look.
“I’m not, not really. It’s just…Sabbath’s happiness, maybe his life is on the line!” Allura had visions of Sabbath going off to die somewhere, never to be seen or heard from again. She shuddered at such a thought, even as Romelle let out an angry exclamation.
“What about my happiness?! Allura, I can’t be happy being forced into a relationship! I want the freedom to choose, not have it be forced on me!”
“But love doesn’t always let us choose who our partners will be!” pointed out Allura. “If it’s a good love, it sneaks up on you, taking you by surprise…!” She could see she wasn’t swaying Romelle towards making a decision in Sabbath’s favor, Allura sighing. “Just think about what I told you, okay? And please…if you’re not going to seriously give him your time, then stop ordering him around like he’s your personal servant.”
Romelle said nothing to that, walking forward to retrieve the magazine off the floor. Allura held back another sigh, and stood, gesturing for Romelle to follow her. “Now….do you still want to help me pick out a dress?”
“I’m sorry Allura….I feel a bit of headache coming on….” Romelle sank down into the chair, the magazine in her hands. “Will you please excuse me?”
Allura looked at her for one long moment, having the suspicion that Romelle was just backing out of the dress excursion because she wanted to avoid any further talk on Sabbath. But Allura didn’t press her cousin to come with her, the princess slowly nodding. “All right Romelle. Perhaps Gloria or Marie will be available to come along instead.”
“I’m sure they would be more help than I would be in my present frame of mind.” Romelle murmured, attention already on the magazine’s pages. Allura looked at her again, then shrugged, moving to leave the room. She kept waiting for her cousin to call her back, to confide in her some more about her situation with Sabbath. But Romelle remained quiet, leaving Allura frustrated and worried over what would happen next.