The receiving room was crowded with Drules, a sea of faces both familiar and not, looking towards Lotor expectantly. He wondered if his own face mirrored their looks, Lotor knowing he had his own expectations of these men and women. Some of the faces he saw were surprising, Lotor not ever having expected to ally with people from those particular families. Others were allies he had made at court, people who had always supported him, or owed him favors for the support he had given them.
And in front of the crowd was Cossack, the former commander standing tall and proud, flashing fangs as he grinned at Lotor. To the right of him was Princess Milleenia, a pretty female that was petite in size for a Drule. She still towered over Allura by a good ten inches, but standing next to the men her difference in height was shocking.
Milleenia looked much the same since he had last seen her, glowing with her happiness at finding her mate. She kept glancing at Cossack, her gold cat’s eyes filled with affection and adoration, the same looks that would have sicken Lotor once upon a time. Cossack himself, kept a firm grip around her waist, holding her against his side as he talked to Allura.
Allura was looking a little overwhelmed, finding herself the center of attention by so many Drules. Cossack kept teasing her by mentioning how against love Lotor had been, to the point it almost embarrassed the prince. The Drules he knew were nodding their head, and even those he hadn’t previously made an acquaintance with, had also heard his stance on being against love.
“Come Cossack…” Lotor protested out loud. “You’re making me sound as bad as Zarkon!”
“Oh no!” Cossack said without blinking an eye. “The King was a million times worse. It’s not surprising you grew up hating the idea of being mated, with him for a father. Should have known that even with Zarkon’s attempt at genetic manipulation, he couldn’t do away with the mating impulse completely!”
Allura glanced his way, and Lotor prepared himself for the question he saw in her eyes. “It must have been difficult…” She mused out loud. “To succumb to that which you had been schooled to hate.”
“Truthfully?” Lotor asked, and she nodded. “There wasn’t time to think about the act of falling in love. It just happened, and I was helpless to resist.”
“I shouldn’t be surprised.” Cossack crowed. “With all that negativity and hatred you spouted off towards mated pairs, it’s not surprising you fell harder than most.”
Lotor frowned at him. “What do you mean by that?”
“Aw, don’t give me that look.” Grumbled Cossack. “You know what I mean…turning your back on your father, helping to protect your mate’s world….starting a war for her. How many Drules can claim those kind of feats in the name of love?”
“None, that’s who!” Cossack finished with a grin. “You’re setting new standards for us men…our women will be so envious of the love you have for your mate!” Lotor glanced at Allura, who had turned a pretty bright shade of pink at Cossack’s words.
“Dear…” Milleenia spoke up, having took note of Allura’s blush with a proper amount of pity. “You are embarrassing them.”
“It’s only some good fashioned teasing.” Cossack protested.
“Save it for another time. We have work to do.” Milleenia said reproachfully. Cossack sighed, his grin losing some of his cheer.
“Right…the war…” He locked eyes with Lotor, suddenly so serious. “I’ll save the I told you so’s for later. Right now I think it’s prudent you meet you new commanding officers.”
Some of the Drules were stepping closer, eager to be introduced to their prince. Lotor looked each one in the eyes, hand reaching out to shake theirs as Cossack rattled off introductions.
“High General Rivosen!” Lotor exclaimed, interrupting Cossack. He eagerly took the Drule’s hand, shaking it firmly as he began to heap admiration on the man. “Your strategies at planet Zevestia was invaluable to Doom winning that military campaign!”
Rivosen looked pleased that Lotor knew of him, the Drule losing some of his serious look to smile. “I was merely doing my duty to our home world. There was many factors that decided the battle, many men and women who helped carry out my plans to ensure our victory.”
“Yeah but, if you hadn’t come up with those tactics, they wouldn’t have known what to do to win!” Cossack’s words had Rivosen flashing a modest look, the Drule still trying to demure from taking all the credit.
“You have a keen mind for strategy and planning.” Lotor praised him. “I find it an honor to have you onboard with me in this endeavor.”
“The honor is all mine.” Rivosen said, then moved aside for the next General to take Lotor’s hand. Besides him Allura was offering her hand to the High General, Rivosen hesitating with a glance at Lotor for permission to touch his mate. Lotor gave a subtle nod, Rivosen relaxing enough to shake Allura’s hand, the girl smiling a dazzling smile at him.
The line of commanding officers was long, many men and a few women waiting for their chance to exchange a few words with the prince. Lotor was amazed at some of the faces he saw in the line up, recognizing war hardened veterans that had won many a campaign for Doom. Merla it seemed, had gone all out in gathering allies for Lotor, and he was grateful the Queen had not seen to give him only soldiers, but also the men and women capable of commanding them to their best performances.
There was perhaps fifty Drules in all gathered in the room, with nearly thirty-thousand more men and women waiting to hear from him. Of course Lotor would not greet each soldier personally, that action would be limited to a welcoming reception where Lotor and several of the officers in command would give speeches, detailing their hopes and plans for the upcoming war.
Every soldier would be used, no Drule wasted, no matter what their job was. Some would make up the command deck’s crew of each ship, working the computers and flight programs to keep the ships in the sky. Others would over see programs developed towards the ships’ other functions, and many would be involved in the fighting itself, either on the ground, or in space via the star cutters.
Such a large military presence needed money to outfit and feed the soldiers. A good percentage of the money came from those enemy soldiers Lotor had ransomed off, although Merla herself had sent gold and credits to help lessen the financial burden. More money would be coming from the other nobles who Lotor had managed to gain support from. Lotor hoped that none of them were planning to back out of the promises they had made him, the prince wondering when or if the other soldiers would arrive.
Cossack seemed pleased to be the first on the scene, bursting with pride that strongly hinted at how much arm twisting he had done to his mate’s mother. Merla’s generosity was surprising, and clearly the largest amount of men given to Lotor’s cause. With the one thousand Drules that had turned traitor against Morduck, it brought his current number of Drule soldiers up to thirty one-thousand. Allura’s people had promised him an additional seven thousand men, the human soldiers arriving from various kingdoms for their training.
They would learn how to control the Drule ships, how to fly them, but also how to fight with them. Lotor didn’t want to risk the humans on the ground, knowing in hand to hand combat they would be hard pressed to win. He still had them learn sword and fighting techniques on the off chance they had to fight a Drule, but the focus of their training was in flying the star cutters.
Lotor often joined the soldiers in training, using this time to get back into his top fighting form. His hand was healing nicely, his reactions and speed almost back up to what it was before Morduck had stabbed him in the palm. To the Drules, some of who had fought under Lotor’s command in the past, it was no big deal seeing him train with them. But for the humans, it had an uplifting effect, the men and women working even harder.
Sabbath did indeed get his chance to bring Bandor to one of the Drule’s fighting practices, the boy so excited, he could barely keep his voice down. He seemed to dance from foot to foot, watching the Drule’s spar with each other. He was even given permission to handle one of the lazon swords, albeit with strict supervision by Sabbath. That earned the Drule all kinds of cool points in the eyes of the young prince, the boy becoming an ardent fan, and passionate defender of Sabbath to his brother and father.
Avok and the King remained at the castle for a week’s length in time, being among the last of the party guests to leave. The King had stayed to get to know Sabbath, even going so far as to invite him to come back to Romelle’s kingdom, all in an effort to further explore their relationship. So far Sabbath had yet to accept, having promised Lotor he would stay behind and guard over Allura.
Where Sabbath stayed, so did Romelle, the girl insisting on remaining in Altea to lend her cousin emotional support in Lotor’s absence. Lotor didn’t know of how much use Romelle would be during that time, especially when she seemed to have eyes only for her Drule.
Once three weeks had gone by, and the other allies’ provisions started to arrive on Arus, Cossack bade Lotor a fond farewell. As much as he would have liked to have lent Lotor his support during the actual fighting, the commander’s time as a soldier was long past. He would not risk parting from his mate, did not want to put Milleenia through the terror and upset of his fighting in a war. Nor did he want to run the risk of dying somewhere on a battlefield, leaving his mate Milleenia to die of a broken heart.
Cossack though was certain Lotor would be victorious, and the prince often thought about his friend’s parting words. Cossack had said the next time they meet, he would be looking not at the prince, but at the King of the Doom Empire. Lotor had quickly told him to not make such statements, fearing a positive attitude about such things would lend towards jinxing the campaign.
Plans continued to be made, strategies decided on, a multitude of battle tactics prepared. They would have to be ready for anything, would have to be prepared to be flexible, and switch strategies at a minute’s notice. All in an effort to adjust to the attacks his father’s forces would throw at them. Lotor was satisfied with the amount of care and planning that went into the strategies, and once the ships were repaired to top fighting condition, the time to delay had ended.
It took nearly three months for everything to be ready, for all the soldiers to arrive and be trained, for the ships to be refueled, and stocked with supplies. It was approaching the winter months of Altea, the first snow had yet to fall, when Lotor realized he could not wait any more. As badly as he wanted to remain by his mate’s side, he had to go, had to take his armada and begin the attacks on Doom. If he didn’t, Zarkon would surely come to Arus, unleashing his full might on the planet, and devastating it’s land.
The night before he was to leave, he was almost frantic, spending every waking minute with Allura. Some would have assumed they spent their last hours together making love, they would not be entirely correct about that. Much of the time he spent just looking at her, gazing at her with the full extent of his love, as he tried to memorize everything about her. She knew he was leaving, and she tried to be brave, but Allura couldn’t hide the fear she felt for him in the moment.
He did more than just look, he ran his fingers all over her, touching her hair, her skin, leaning in close to sniff in her scent. And when they did make love, he insisted on keeping it gentle, a slow, almost lazy pace where they both luxuriated in the feel of one another. They went to sleep in each other’s arms, and woke up in a similar pose, Allura’s eyes turning wet as she realized the time was quickly counting down to the hour he would have to leave her.
Breakfast was a subdued affair, the cooks going all out to feed Lotor and the soldiers one last home cooked meal. There was perhaps an hour of time left when they finished, and every minute was accounted for. Papers were slid before him, Lotor giving them a brief once over as he read numbers and saw the reminders of the projected estimates of exactly when and where they would encounter the first ships from Doom.
And then he found himself standing before the lowered ramp of the flag ship, a small crowd of humans and Drules gathered around him and Allura. She was trying to hold it together, but he could see her facade failing, the tears starting to overspill. Lotor tenderly wiped away those tears, leaning in close to kiss her wet cheeks, and whisper reassurances to her.
“I don’t want you to go.” Allura whispered a confession against his chest, clinging to him. “It’s selfish of me, isn’t it? So much rides on your leaving, on the success you must have. It’s not just Arus that depends on your win, all of the galaxy waits, hoping for the chance to be free of Zarkon’s tyranny.”
In this moment he didn’t give a damn about the rest of the galaxy, just aware his mate was hurting, and he was the cause. He kept one arm around her, Lotor hugging Allura to him as his other hand petting her hair. He tried to make his touch soothing, and feared she’d notice the trembling of his hand.
“It’s not selfish.” Lotor told her, hearing her sniffle. “Not really….” He conceded at her doubting look. “If you asked, I’d stay. We’d come up with new plans, ones to drive Zarkon off when he inevitably sent his ships to Arus.”
“But then it would never end.” Protested Allura with a sigh. “He’d keep coming…and all it would take is one victory, one misstep on our part for him to take Arus, and kill you. Kill us all or worse!” She had needed the reminder of that fate, Allura’s eyes flashing with a hint of determination that could not quite overwhelm her upset in the moment.
“I’ll end it. For Arus and for you.” Lotor said, hand cupping her cheek. “I’ll return to you victorious, banners flying high in celebration.”
“Just return to me.” She begged, turning her face so she could kiss his hand. “No matter what. I…” Whatever she had been about to say was lost on a sob, Allura shaking her head, trying to compose herself. She couldn’t, leaning heavily against him, face buried in his chest so as to muffle her sobs. He felt so helpless in the moment, Lotor holding her and knowing no amount of comfort would fix this for his leaving was the reason she was crying.
“Cousin…” Romelle, wrapped in a thick cloak, approached them, face worried and sad. He allowed her to touch Allura, the princess trying to draw her cousin away from Lotor. “Please….they must go, HE must go now.”
“Just another minute!” Allura cried in protest, fingers fisting the material of Lotor’s new uniform. They had gotten rid of the stark black uniforms of Doom’s military, instead wearing a dark gray color that was accented with navy blue. “Just give us one more minute…”
“Love we can take all the minutes we need…” Lotor said, not trying to untangle her fingers from his clothes. “But we can’t delay this forever.”
“I know…” Allura was tearful, her composure crumbled. “I just don’t want to say good bye!”
“Then don’t.” Lotor said, and gave a lingering kiss on her lips. “Instead say, until we meet again.”
“Until we meet again…” She repeated, then gave a weak smile. “I like that. It’s much better than good bye.”
“Indeed it is.” He agreed, then hugged her hard. “I love you, my mate, my beautiful Allura. Never forget that.”
“I won’t.” Allura promised, then began kissing him, each one frantic and fast. “And never forget how much I love you. Let that love carry you into battle, and help you stay safe.” One last frantic kiss, and then she jerked out of his embrace, allowing Romelle to lead her away. Lotor stood on the ramp, watching them go to stand by Sabbath’s side, Allura trying her best not to break down completely.
He met Sabbath’s eyes, the two Drules exchanging nods. There was no need for words, they had already spoken in the days preceding this moment. Sabbath, along with Captain Darius and Coran, would watch over Allura, keep her safe. It took a lot out of Lotor to entrust his mate’s safety to another man, let alone three, but he wouldn’t have been able to leave without that reassurance that she would be protected.
Romelle was hugging Allura, offering comfort to a girl who was inconsolable in the moment. Allura kept turning to look Lotor’s way, her blues eyes blazing with her grief. He couldn’t bear it any longer, he bowed, then turned, walking up the ramp of the ship. He could heard Allura crying, though it was wordless, his mate keeping her composure long enough to keep from begging him to come back to her.
General Pardust was waiting inside the ship, a sympathetic look in his eyes. Lotor wondered what kind of expression was on his face, the prince wondering if he looked half as grief stricken as Allura was.
“It’s a brave thing you do…” Pardust told him, and the Drules besides him nodded. “Leaving your mate to fight this war.”
“Bravery has nothing to do with it.” Lotor retorted. “I do what is necessary to ensure her safety and happiness.” With that said, he was moving past Pardust, heart hurting, and determined not to show his pain. He wanted to retire to his cabin, but didn’t want to be seen as hiding in his moment of crisis. Instead he walked slowly through the ship’s corridors, following the pathways to the command deck.
It was there that he took the commander’s chair, sitting back against the stiff cushions and gazing stoically at the view screen. The ships were already in flight, speeding away from the castle of lions and his heart’s desire. He couldn’t even make out Allura among the crowd of people, they looked like brightly colored ants from this height.
He gripped the seat’s arm rests in his agitation, expression melancholy though his thoughts were menacing. He was hissing under his breath, making a vow to make Zarkon pay. For this, and for everything he had attempted to do on Arus. ~Watch out Zarkon, I’m coming for you!~