King Alfor was the most interesting, the man retaining his calm demeanor, but with a hard edge around his eyes. He blinked several times, just taking in the notion of the Drules, their so called Gods, moving into his kingdom.
The humans had not been the only ones to react, his companions showing surprise at the blunt way their King had announced their intent. Merla had not quite gasped, instead letting out a hiss of air, muttering a quick comment in Drule. “I had not expected you to rush into things this quickly.”
“There was no helping it.” Lotor retorted, keeping his eyes on the humans. “This Alfor is a shrewd man. It’s best to deal as honestly with him as we can.”
“Even while continuing to accept being called their Gods?” She demanded, tone tart.
“I never said we were.” Lotor pointed out, well aware that for all his refusal to acknowledge the title, he had never out right refused to be called a God either. “Drule…human…God….they are all labels we give each other.”
“If it makes it easier for the humans to accept us…” began Traad from behind Lotor’s back. “Then I do not see why we cannot be that which what they so desperately want us to be.”
“We…we…” The priest was stuttering, trying excitedly to convey a notion. “We would be most honored to have you…”
“Fordham!” hissed Alfor, the priest flinching at the annoyance in his King’s voice. “You forget your place!”
“I misspoke….but the temples would be glad to house the Gods!” The priest explained, most eager to bring the Drules to what he viewed was their rightful place in society. “It’s only a matter of preparing rooms for them…”
“I think the question of where we will live needs to be pushed aside for the moment.” Lotor said, having switched back to Arusian. “For now my people and I will spend the nights on our ships. We don’t want to put anyone out by intruding…”
“And yet you make your intent clear in that you want to….live here with us?” Alfor asked pointedly. Lotor nodded, and the king continued. “You’ve not outright said it, but our talk has made it clear you will not accept anything less than our agreement to this idea.”
Lotor fought to keep from shifting in his seat, not wanting to make it seem like he was uncomfortable with what Alfor had said. He knew it was a matter of necessity for his people, they needed a world to call their own, they couldn’t continue to live on the ships indefinitely. But he didn’t know if Alfor would be sympathetic to the Drules plight, the Arusian King hard to read.
“Why do you even ask?” Questioned Alfor. “Why do you not take what you want from us?”
“I….that is we, prefer to do this in a peaceful manner.” Merla snorted at that, Lotor furious to hear her sound. He’d deal with her later, the King of the Drules concentrating on working to smooth things over with Alfor. “We do not want to overthrow you humans. We would like to live peacefully with you.”
“Humans?” Allura questioned, and Lotor glanced at her.
“It is our word for your people.” She seem satisfied by that, another question issuing out of her.
“And what do you call your people?”
“Allura!” Alfor hardly seemed pleased to see his daughter conversing with Lotor, the man admonishing her. “This is no time to side track the conversation.”
“It’s all right.” Lotor smiled at them both. “To answer your question princess, we call ourselves Drule.”
“Drule.” She repeated, then fell silent, respecting her father’s desire not to drag the conversation off track.
“I suppose it is something.” Alfor said, having regained his composure. “Your wanting to do this peacefully. Heaven knows you could overpower us by sheer force with those fire spewing ships of yours.” Lotor felt it redundant to confirm the truth of that, holding his tongue as he waited for Alfor to reach a decision. “But…I have my own people’s needs to think of. And we cannot support a whole new race of people…not at this time.”
“Your highness!” hissed the priest, Fordham. Alfor ignored him, continuing.
“Food is scarce, even in this plentiful time. We make just enough to feed our own. We’d invite disaster to try and feed five whole ships of strangers.”
“Not even if the strangers had ways of helping you to increase your harvest bounty?” Lotor inquired. Alfor didn’t so much as blink in surprise, merely waiting for Lotor to elaborate. “We come not unprepared. We are fully ready to help your society, to increase not only your production of food stuffs, but to allow you to live in comforts you’ve yet to dream of.”
“This is the prosperity you spoke of?” Alfor asked.
“Yes.” Lotor nodded. “Give us a chance to prove ourselves. You’ll find it an advantageous alliance if you work with my people.”
“I do not know…” Alfor hesitated, and it was Allura who spoke up.
“Father please. Give them a chance.” She said, staring imploring at the king. “What harm could there be in letting them try to increase our output of food?”
“It would be a miracle if they could!” added the priest, clearly plotting something by the look on his face. “We would no longer have to worry about the people of the cities starving to death….”
“A miracle…” echoed Alfor, the priest continuing to push.
“I’m sure it would be one of many….right my Lord?” The priest looked at Lotor, hope pushed aside by a kind of craftiness.
“What is it you want from me?” Lotor asked, getting right to the point.
“Come to the temple of Pelphine, try and work some miracles there.” It was a bold suggestion of the priest, Fordham almost desperate. “If you can cure our sick, even just a few, then…”
“Then what?” Lotor asked softly, already thinking of the doctors onboard his ship, and the many medicines they carried. If incentive was high enough, then he didn’t see what harm there would be in treating a few sick humans.
“Then…” Another nervous glance at his King, the priest surely preparing for his rage. “Then we will acknowledge you as true Gods.” It wasn’t exactly what Lotor wanted, but Alfor was suddenly nodding.
“If you can do the things you say, then maybe, just maybe an arrangement can be worked out to allow your people to stay here.”
Merla was incensed, suddenly speaking sharply in Drule. “They would have us jump through hoops like a lap ghoul! Lotor, stop this madness. Let us just take what we need.”
“Much as I am loathe to agree with Lady Merla…” Albatos grumbled. “I think in this situation she is right. Why should we be forced to prove ourselves to them?”
“Do you really want another war, one that could potentially devastate this planet?” Lotor asked, fighting to keep his tone mild.
“Well no.” admitted Albatos.
“Then let us humor the humans.” Lotor retorted. “We may find their gratitude is worth it.” A sigh from Merla, the woman’s face looking as though she had tasted something sour. To the Arusians he smiled, and nodded. “Very well. We accept your challenge.”
The priest seemed to sigh in relief, and Allura looked delighted. King Alfor nodded, and leaned back in his seat, a tension Lotor had not realized the man carried, leaving him in the action. Before an uncomfortable silence could descend upon the room, Lotor was speaking, a hint of warning in his voice. “Now, I need you to understand, miracles take time. We’ll do what we promise, but you cannot expect to see results right away.”
“How much time must we give you?” Alfor demanded, and Lotor hesitated.
“It depends more on what sort of illness your sick has. Our…healer may be able to work much magic when it comes to curing afflictions, but some even she cannot heal all.” Lotor sighed then, a regretful air to him. “If it is a person’s time to go, none may stop death from claiming him.”
“Not even the Gods?” Alfor questioned, and Lotor nodded.
“Your healer is female?” The priest interjected himself into the conversation, looking delighted. “We have always worshipped a woman as the Goddess of Medicine.” Fordham actually dared to give Alfor a pointed look, as though he felt validated that the Drules’ healer matched up with the gender of the God they had worshipped for that particular role.
Lotor hid his smile, thinking how lucky it was that he had chosen one of the few female doctors on board his ship. Doctor Reaver was also one of the more attractive looking Drules, being a handsome woman whose bedside manner would put the humans at ease. Lotor was still wary of introducing the less than human looking Drules, fearing the reaction the Arusians would have.
“You must tell us more about your Gods.” Lotor said, and the priest looked absolutely delighted at the suggestion. His face turned crestfallen when Lotor added the next. “But not today.” At a gesture from Lotor, he and Merla rose from their seats, Alfor and Allura hurrying to do the same. “It’s time we return to our ship.”
“Oh can’t you stay?” blurted out Allura, clasping her hands together imploringly.
“Allura!” Alfor snapped, the girl flinching guiltily.
“It’s just that the day is still young….and we’ve just barely gotten to know each other!”
“There will be plenty of time for that later.” Alfor said, looking like Allura getting to know the Drules was the last thing he wanted.
“Yes.” Agreed Lotor. “Some other time princess. But for now it’s best not to overstay our welcome. Besides…” A smile then, the girl’s coloration changing in response to that expression of his. “We have much to prepare if we are going to put in an appearance at your city.”
“All right…” She was reluctant, clearly wanting to beg them to stay.
“Is tomorrow too soon for us to begin working miracles?” Lotor asked, and the priest became flustered.
“I was hoping to have the entire temple washed down before you appeared!”
“Calm down Fordham.” advised Alfor, lips twitching in an attempt not to smile. “You keep the servants at Pelphine working round the clock to keep that temple clean. It should pass inspection even for our…prestigious guests.” The priest didn’t look reassured, giving off the air of one who would play slave master this night to get things ready for his Gods.
“We thank you for the drinks.” Lotor added, even though he and his companions had barely touched the cider. But then, neither had Alfor, the man too busy questioning Lotor to make with a pretense at pleasantries.
Alfor nodded. “It has been interesting, to say the least.” There seemed nothing left to say, Lotor turning from the table. His companions stuck close to him, ready to make their way back to the courtyard when Allura called out.
“I’ll show you the way.” She smiled, and made move to approach them when her father snagged hold of her wrist.
“Allura no. Let Fordham take them to the courtyard.”
“But father! It really is no trouble for me to do it!” She protested, staring pleadingly at the king. “Please?”
“You have your studies to attend to young lady.” Alfor said sternly, Allura seeming to sag. “Teacher Sashell has told me about you skipping out one too many times this past month.”
“It was only two times…” Allura was heard whispering, the priest already ushering the Drules out of the room. The human walked with his head held high, back stiff as he strutted forward, pride evident in his every action at being chosen to guide the Drules.
“You must forgive our King for being so…so suspicious of you.” Fordham said, and Lotor nodded.
“I do not hold it against him. If I was in his place I too would not be so quick to welcome strangers.”
“Oh but you are not strangers! You are our Gods! You have watched over us for centuries!” The priest quickly exclaimed, radiating reverent joy. “We have always looked to you for guidance, and you have always given it to us.”
“Have we now?” Merla sounded amused. “Do you often commune with our…brethren?”
“Oh not I!’ The priest quickly protested. “Not in the conventional sense. I pray and lead others through prayer, but it is the priestesses who interpret your words. It is they who convey the messages you speak.”
It was strange how the priest didn’t seem to wonder why the Drules did not already know this, Lotor asking as much out loud. The priest turned and smiled, not at all upset by the question. “We know you are busy, and cannot over see every moment of our lives. It is enough that you speak to those with the gift to hear you. And of course…..you’re finally here now, ready to lend us aid in our hour of need.”
“Need?” Traad asked, speaking one of his first words to a human. “You have….problems that need fixing?”
“Oh no more than usual.” The priest hastily clarified. “We have led a charm life, even with the difficulties of every day living. There’s not much to complain about save for the occasional border skirmish between kingdoms.”
“You do not get along with your neighbors?” Lotor asked, and the priest hesitated before answering.
“For the most part we do…” He sighed then, shrugging his shoulders. “But there exists grievances that even now plant the seeds for war.”
“War is not a good thing.” Traad grumbled. He was too young to have lived during the wars that had destroyed most of Doom’s cities, but he remembered the stories of devastation his grandparents had spun.
“Indeed it isn’t.” Agreed the priest. As a man of the cloth he would be all for peace, or so Lotor would assume. “But it is something that is out of our hands for the most part. Fortunate for us all that King Alfor is not hungry to do battle, being a peace loving man.” He was perhaps talking more than he should, revealing things Alfor might not want known.
Lotor was content to let him continue, not quite pushing the man to spill valuable secrets. “Altea is the largest kingdom on Arus is it not?” The priest nodded, seeming not to notice how the few servants they passed, paused to stop and stare at the Drules. “It must be difficult to defend…to hold on to such a large piece of land.”
“Aye, it has been.” The topic seemed to exhaust the priest, the man’s shoulder sagging. “Fortunate for us all, King Alfor is a brilliant tactician.”
“And of course..” Merla added, wry amusement in her tone at what she was saying. “You have your Gods’ blessing as well.”
“That we do!” The priest exclaimed, becoming animated once more. “It is only right. You’ll find nowhere in the three kingdoms of Arus a more loyal and devoted flock of worshippers.” They had reached the doors that led out into the courtyard, the sun seeming even brighter now. “You’ll see just how devoted when you come to the temple tomorrow.” He was walking them towards their ship, almost as though he expected to be invited on.
“We look forward to it.” Lotor said, then gave a dismissive nod to the priest. The man hid his disappointment well, pausing at the base of the ship ramp. He remained there even after the Drules boarded the ship, and the ramp was pulled back.
“That went well enough.” Kratos stated when they were alone.
“I didn’t even have to make use of my axe.” added Phor, and Lotor chuckled at that.
“Careful Phor. You almost sound disappointed.”
“Well, I certainly am.” Merla sniffed, fixing a glare at Lotor. “I don’t see why you go to such lengths to appease the humans.”
“It’s their world.” Lotor reminded her. “Until we are accepted we are mere intruders here.”
“Then we force acceptance!” Merla snapped, her manicured nails clenching into a fist. “We should be imposing our will on them, not doing any of this simpering and boot licking they would ask of us! A catering you are too quick to do!”
“Careful Merla..” Lotor’s voice growled out a warning. “I am still your King. One who would not tolerant your blatant disrespect. To me or to the humans.” A scoffing sound from her, but her glare lessened in intensity. “Your behavior among the humans was less than ideal.”
“I behaved as polite as I am capable of.” She retorted. “Especially around those lesser beings.”
“It still remains to be seen whether or not they are lesser beings.” Lotor snapped back. “Just because we are stronger, and have invented more things….”
“You saw how they reacted to us!” Merla interrupted, speaking over his voice. “Cowering like simple minded fools.”
“It wasn’t cowering,” interjected Kratos. “They were in awe….”
“And rightfully so!” Merla exclaimed.
“They think we are their Gods.” Lotor said, voice soft now. “They merely wished to show the proper respect.”
“Ah yes, there is that.” A smirk from Merla, her gold eyes looking crafty. “It is a notion you refuse to disabuse them of. Why is that? Could it be you want to play God to them?”
“I am exploring all options, leaving all avenues open.” Lotor replied, giving her a cold stare. “If believing we are their Gods helps to foster acceptance among these people, then I do not see what the harm is.”
“They are too quick to believe!” Albatos was giving his opinion. “All of them save for that Alfor of theirs.”
“It takes a wise man to successfully rule his people.” Lotor did not quite smile, adding the following. “Not to mention a patient man. The heavens only know how much certain subjects of mine try my patience!” A pointed look at Merla, the pink haired woman flouncing off with a hmph.
“I’ll be in my chambers.” She announced, going for a low jab. “Not that you would ever make use of them…or me!” Lotor and his companions watched her stalk away, waiting until she disappeared from sight to speak.
“She is a difficult one, that Merla.” Kratos murmured.
“Indeed she is.” Lotor agreed with a sigh. It was no secret that his engagement to Merla was not a love match, the union born out of political desire, their dead parents having arranged the union years ago. Most times Lotor did not look forward to taking the sharp tongue Drule to be his wife, a displeasure that manifested in his delaying their wedding time and time again.
He often used the excuse of being too consumed with the quest for a new home for their people, to properly devote time to her. It was a well worn excuse that Merla was beginning to tire of, the lady becoming more hostile to Lotor. He held no illusions that she wanted him, the king knowing it was his crown she wanted to share and not his bed.
“They say ice flows not only in her veins, but frosts her body as well.” Phor did not say who they were, the man always ready with quick gossip.
“Perhaps with the right man’s touch, that ice will melt.” Albatos said.
“Perhaps.” Lotor replied. “But I fear I am not that man!” His companions made sympathetic sounds, not knowing what else to say to soothe their King over his poor choice in fiancee. He didn’t much know what to say either, Lotor suffering private doubts about Merla’s suitability to be Queen to their people. Especially in light of her actions around the humans. She shouldn’t be scorning them, not when they were so desperate to try and forge a peaceful attempt to coexist.
“It will work out.” Rumbled Kratos, trying to soothe his King. Lotor merely shrugged, not knowing how it could.
“If you’ll excuse me…” he said, and the four Drules nodded, the men doing slight bows of respect. A respect Merla had conveniently forgotten, flouncing off without so much as by your leave from Lotor. It made him want to sigh, and loudly, Lotor holding back his breath as he strolled down the corridors of his ship. Like so many times in the past, he pushed aside thoughts of Merla, thinking the woman was better out of sight, out of mind.
~I have much to do.~ Lotor thought, taking the turn that would lead him to the ship’s infirmary. He knew he had best prepare Doctor Reaver for the task he had appointed her with. They would need to gather assistants, ones that would not offend the eyes of the Arusians. Medicine would also need to be gathered, and medical equipment so that the doctor need not rush back and forth from the ship to diagnose those that were ill.
Tomorrow would be a busy day for the doctor, Lotor hoping Reaver was up for the challenge. For that matter he found himself hoping the same for himself, Lotor wondering what else the day would hold. He even wondered if King Alfor himself would appear at the temple, a stray thought surprising him as Lotor realized he would not mind it if his daughter, the princess Allura put in an appearance as well. The mere thought of her had him smiling, and upon realizing what he was doing, he scowled.
~It’s merely because she is someone new and exotic.~ Lotor thought to himself. It had been too long since he had had the chance to appreciate new female beauty, Lotor limited to seeing the same faces on this ship. On rare occasions, he took a smaller transport to visit the other ships, but for the most part he remained on this one. He knew it would only invite disaster to express a deep interest in a princess of Arus, Lotor having picked up on her father’s unease. He told himself that if he must, he could always take up with one of the local girls, the king praying that it would be that simple to quench any burgeoning desire for Allura!