The upper floors of Pelphine temple were quiet this evening, the closed windows doing much to muffle the sounds of the crowd that was gathered at the front of the building. The people of the city held a twilight vigil, lit torches in hand as they waited tirelessly for the chance to see their Gods. It was more than just the people of Altea and the castle, word had spread like wildfire, reaching several nearby towns.
Towns whose people had been eager to journey to the capital, all in hopes of seeing a God and perhaps being granted a miracle or two. More than a week had gone by since Lotor had brought Doctor Reaver and her assistants to Pelphine temple, the medical staff working around the clock to help heal the patients they had taken in to the temple.
It was more than enough time for all but the most serious of cases to have been handled, the patients being released with a clean bill of health. Fevers had been brought down, bones set and in one case rebroken before being mended. Rashes had been cured, and there was even a case of a man’s hearing being drastically improved once Reaver had gotten rid of a persistent head cold that had stuck with him for years.
Pneumonia, bronchitis, these were just a few of the illnesses they had dealt with, the medicines and vaccines the Drules carried doing much to lessen the effects of those sicknesses, slowly obliterating them from those infected. They were rapidly depleting much of the medicines Lotor had allowed to be taken off the ships, and still more ill came, begging for a chance to be healed.
They would soon be forced to turn people away, the Drules not wanting to use up all the medicine they had brought with them. Not until they could grow more of the herbs and ingredients needed to replenish their stock of medicine. The greenhouse rooms aboard their ships were neither big enough nor fast enough to produce enough herbs to heal both the humans and the Drule indefinitely. And Lotor would not sacrifice the health of his own people in order to impress a stubborn king.
He frowned as he thought of Alfor, noting the King had yet to send word acknowledging the Drule’s accomplishments. He had to be aware that their help came at a price, a price Lotor would not allow Alfor to ignore for much longer. The ruler of this kingdom had to make a decision and soon, or else Lotor would be forced to decide for him.
He sighed, not wanting things to turn nasty between the humans and the Drules. War would be best avoided at all costs, Lotor knowing his people were inexperienced at fighting in a way that would not harm the planet. Too often had they relied on devastating weapons, bombs and chemicals, blowing things apart and making people sick. They would be out of their realm of experience if they relied on the Arusians mode of war waging, many of his people lacking proper training when it came to hand to hand combat.
He wondered if the Arusians would fight those they believed to be their Gods, Lotor wondering which was stronger. Their loyalty to their King, or their faith in the Gods. It would almost be interesting to test that, Lotor knowing the people at the castle were very much devoted to the Drules, and the people of the city and towns were quickly following suit, feeling their faith rewarded by the miracles Doctor Reaver performed on the sick.
If they continued to impress the people of Arus, they might even choose to overthrow King Alfor, putting in his place a leader who echoed the sentiment of the people. But Lotor didn’t want that, didn’t want to disrupt their lives any more than necessary. It didn’t mean he wouldn’t play ruthless if he had too, Lotor not about to be a pushover where his people’s well being was concerned.
He frowned, not liking the troubling thought that followed, Lotor thinking of Alfor’s daughter. An image of her immediately sprung to mind, a golden beauty that was radiant in her own special way, a shy smile on her face. She had not been by to visit since the first day of healing, the boy with the scarlet fever scaring her away. He thought it was better this way, Lotor not wanting to get to attached to the girl. Strong feelings would only complicate things, make it harder should he have to play hard ball with her and her father.
Even now he was hesitating, thinking of how devastated the girl would be should something happen to King Alfor. Even worse was an insidious thought, one that whispered seductively in his mind, saying he could always lend her a comforting shoulder in her time of need. Lotor quickly shook his head no, knowing he had no right to be thinking like this, not when he was engaged to marry Merla.
“Speak of the devil.” He murmured out loud, spying Merla as she slinked into the room, clad in form fitting black leather. It was an outfit that accentuated the lines of her figure, midriff revealed, and cleavage pushed up on display. She looked like sin and seduction, and Lotor knew the sight alone should have been enough to arouse his interest. But the thought of her personality, and acidic tongue tempered any desire her looks might inspire, Lotor sighing out a hello.
She gave a slight nod of her head, pausing by a window to peer through the colored glass out at the crowd below. A considering look was in her eyes, Merla not quite smiling as she regarded the waiting humans. It was surprising to see her looking this way, especially after the scornful way she acted around the humans. Even worse had been her disdain, Merla ill at ease around the sick humans.
Now she looked positively gleeful, leaving Lotor to wonder what sort of news had drawn her off the ship and into what she had called a filthy den of diseases. “You’re in a good mood.” Lotor noted, Merla’s eyes gleaming from the torchlight.
“Am I?” She played coy, continuing to stare down at the humans.
“Yes. Better than you were all week.” He cocked his head, studying her profile, not missing the secretive smile she wore. “What’s happened?” He couldn’t help the suspicious tone that slipped into his voice, Lotor wondering if someone had died. He was already running down a mental list of human patients, knowing they had been fortunate in that none of them had been at the point where modern medicine could not help them.
Merla did not answer him, not in words, her hand raising high, fingers almost absentminded as she stroked long nails against a pretty jeweled necklace. Even in the dim lighting, Lotor realized the necklace was new, the King not having seen Merla with anything like it before. “Where did you get that necklace?”
“Oh this?” She asked, and gave an airy laugh, an elegant rise of her shoulders signaling her shrugs. “One of the humans gave it to me.”
“A human gave that to you?” His brows drew together, Lotor trying to understand the reason behind the gift. “Why?”
“Oh, just a token of affection.” Merla replied, a smirk on her lips now. “She was….very appreciative of our help.”
“The miracles we’ve performed.” Merla laughed then, stepping away from the window. “Her son or her daughter, I forget which, was suffering from some dreadful affliction. We managed to heal the brat, and she was quick to reward me with this.” She was still playing with the necklace, caressing the center jewel over and over.
“It figures.” Lotor scowled at her, Merla blinking in surprise at the hostility in his tone. “You didn’t care one ounce for the ill, did not lift one finger to help them.” She was scoffing, making protests about not wanting to get her hands dirty. He talked over her, Lotor all but growling. “But it’s just like you to make damn sure to arrive to revel in the praise and rewards of other’s hard work!”
“Isn’t that what you are trying to do?” She demanded, one hand landing on her hip. “We all know you lack any medical knowledge. At best you could only get in the way of Reaver and her staff. And yet you stick around, risking your health in order to impress that King of theirs.”
“That’s different.” Lotor retorted, eyes narrowed. “I am trying to safeguard our people’s future, trying to secure a permanent home for them. I am not doing any of this for trinkets and gifts!” He stood now, but did not draw near to Merla, directing a pointed glare at the necklace. “That looks expensive.”
“Oh it is.” She actually smiled, purring out a response. “The woman said something about giving her life’s savings to be able to afford this token.”
“That makes it all the worse!” Lotor exclaimed. “You cannot keep it.” She looked startled at that, fingers clenching possessively around the necklace. “Return it Merla. It and any other tokens people deem fit to give you.”
“What if I don’t want to?” Merla demanded, still clutching the necklace in her fist. “And it’s not just that woman. There are many more gathered, just waiting for a chance to bestow their wealth upon us. If we cannot have their land, then we might as well take their fortunes!”
“And what good will greed do us?” Lotor snapped back. “We can have all the money and jewels in the world and still be homeless!” He pointed a finger at her, Merla standing tall, not so much as quivering in response. “I will not have you or any of our people jeopardizing what I am trying to do by taking things from the humans!” Her lips had pursed into a thin line, Merla trying to hide her anger.
“Fine.” She hissed, and with a harsh jerk of her fist, ripped the necklace from her throat. Some of the jewels slipped off the chain, clattering to the floor at her feet. Merla made no move to pick them up, instead flinging the necklace towards Lotor. He caught the ruined remains in one fist, never taking his eyes off his bride. “That human king you wish to please so much has arrived.”
“What?” Some of his anger faded, Lotor frowning. “Why didn’t you tell me sooner?” But she was already stalking away, hips an angry sway that would still cause most able minded men to pause and stare.
Lotor stared too, but lust was not the reason, the King trying to calm his anger in preparation for meeting with Alfor. He still held the broken necklace in his hand, and he sighed to see the jewels on the floor, Lotor stuffing them all into his pocket. He promised he’d find that woman and return the necklace to her, after he had repaired it’s chain.
A glance out the window showed several carriages pulled up in front of the temple, the tops of their cabins bearing emblem that were decorated with the royal crest. The crest resembled a shield with a lion standing protectively in front of it, it’s body a tawny color, with a golden mane. People crowded around the carriages, the guards trying to hold them back, drivers working to calm the horses.
From this height he could not see inside the carriages, leaving Lotor to wonder if Alfor was already in the building. He ran a hand through his hair, smoothing back the long locks away from his eyes. The act of adjusting his hair calmed him, Lotor’s anger cooling enough that he felt ready to meet with the King. He began walking towards the room’s exit, intent on finding the stairs to descend downwards into the heart of the temple.
There was few humans up on this floor, holding hushed conversations in respect to the fact that Doctor Reaver and some of her staff were currently resting. They were sleeping in shifts, gaining four hours of rest for every eighteen that they worked, keeping a round the clock vigil around the patients in the restored sick room. Reaver assured Lotor that she wasn’t in danger of burning out, likening the schedule to her first semester in triage during her student days.
He traveled down to the second floor, and he spied Kratos, the dark haired Drule standing by a window, arms crossed over his massive chest. He was currently on security detail, one of the body guards assigned to watch over Lotor. The king could tell how uneasy the Drule was to see so many people outside the temple, the man constantly worrying over what would happen if things went wrong.
One of their ships was currently parked in the back of the temple, Lotor and his people ready to make a quick exit through a servants entrance should a crisis happen. The other four ships had been sent away, so as not to worry or intimidate the humans with their constant presence in the sky. Lotor knew Kratos would feel better if the ships were still here, the Drule feeling they were sacrificing their comfort for the humans.
“Come Lord Kratos.” Lotor spoke as he walked pass the Drule, the man turning to fall in step with Lotor. “We go to meet with King Alfor.”
“It is about time he show his face here.” Grumbled Kratos, the man just as annoyed as Lotor over the human king’s continual avoidance. “We have done so much, and every one but the one whose opinion matters most, has come to respect the things we have done.”
“Perhaps now he will express the gratitude we seek.” Lotor replied, walking down the corridor. A priestess stepped out of a room at the end of the hall, her face lighting up to see the two Drules. She hurried forward, hands holding up the hem of her white robes so that she did not trip as she ran.
“Ah my Lords.” She paused to bow deeply, inadvertently offering a view of her cleavage. Kratos murmured an appreciative comment in Drule, Lotor stifling his laughter. It seemed he wasn’t alone in finding human women attractive. “King Alfor and the lord high priest are waiting for you.” She gestured for them to follow her, heading back towards the room she had just vacated.
She paused outside the doorway, the priestess not a part of the conversation that was to follow. Lotor took in the room as he entered, seeing it was one of the many offices that lined the second floor. The desk was positioned by the huge window, allowing the sun light to shine down on it’s surface. A surface that was currently covered in shadows, the torches doing little to vanquish them.
Before the desk was chairs, the priest Fordham and Alfor already seated. They rose at the sight of the Drules, the priest almost comical in the low bow he offered his Gods. Alfor was more restrained, doing a slight bow that conveyed some modicum of respect. Lotor mimicked that motion, not wanting to give any more than he had gotten.
“Please…” Fordham was gesturing to the empty chairs, Lotor taking a seat. Kratos remained standing, keeping an eye on the proceedings.
“It’s been a while, your highness.” Lotor said, tone cool to show he was displeased with the gap in between visits.
“That is has.” Alfor agreed. “I’ll get straight to the point.”
“Your bluntness is appreciated.” Lotor replied, eager to hear what the human king had to say.
“You’ve had a busy week, and you’ve seen many people. Even more so you’ve seen a lot of different illnesses, the likes of which has plagued my people for some time. I’m even told there was a young boy, a sufferer of Scarlet Fever.” Alfor paused, and Lotor nodded. “That boy has recovered against all odds…”
“It is truly a miracle.” Interjected Fordham, his face glowing with admiration. His devotion to the Drules had only grown exponentially with each human cured, the man ready to sing his Gods praises to any and all who would listen. “Truly, you are the Gods walking amongst us at last.”
Lotor kept his eyes on Alfor, seeing the bearded human stifling a frown. He locked eyes with Lotor, blue eyes bright with challenge. “I do not accept you are Gods.” That set the priest off protesting, the man all but squawking impotently. Alfor spoke over him, and now his eyes softened just a tad. “But I do accept that you have worked miracles in healing our people.”
Lotor wondered if Alfor accepted it enough to agree to allowing the Drules to coexist with the humans, the King opening his mouth to speak. “You have seen what we can do. And that is just a taste of what is in store for you and your own if you welcome us among you.”
Alfor was made of stern stuff, not allowing greed to fill his eyes at the promises Lotor hinted at. “You’ve almost convinced me.”
“Almost?” Lotor asked sharply, and Alfor nodded.
“There is still the matter of food, and the feeding of extra mouths.” Alfor sighed then. “Can you really work magic and increase our output of food?”
“Yes, we can.” Lotor said, and Alfor paused for a moment.
“Then begin the preparations you need to do so.” Lotor took no offense at Alfor’s commanding tone, eyeing the king with great interest.
“Does this mean you will accept my people?”
Another pause from Alfor, and for one brief instant Lotor saw the uncertainty in his eyes. “I suppose I would be a fool not to. You offer us much, both prosperity and devastation. Better to live alongside one another as friends, rather than enemies.”
“Indeed.” Lotor agreed.
“But I have conditions.” Alfor added, and Lotor lifted a brow at that. “A land can’t have two kings….you will not interfere with my rule of my people, nor will I with yours. There are other things to consider, such as what land I will award you. Treaties to work out so as to keep us from squabbling. You must promise to never turn a greedy eye towards my land and holdings.”
“All those details can be hammered out at a later date.” Lotor said, and Alfor nodded.
“I will have my aides get to work on writing up an iron clad contract.” Another pause from Alfor, the man’s voice low as he said the following to Lotor. “I see how my people react to you Drules. I see the wonder in their eyes, the admiration and hope, and it…it frightens me.”
“Frightens you? Why?” Lotor asked, voice equally low. It was as though Alfor and Lotor were the only ones in the room, Fordham and Kratos ignored for the moment. Alfor seemed on the verge of confessing something to Lotor, but then he blinked, the spell of intimacy broken.
“It’s nothing.” He denied, giving a rueful shake of his head. “I’m just looking out for the good of my people. Just as you do for your Drules.” Alfor rose from his seat, and Lotor and Fordham hurried to do the same. “Come King Lotor. Gather your healers and greet the people of Altea. They are most anxious to thank you for your week’s worth of miracles.”
“So I hear.” Lotor muttered, thinking of the broken necklace in his pocket. Alfor flashed him a quizzical look but held back his comments, gesturing for Lotor to precede him out the room. Kratos and Fordham followed the two Kings, the priest nervously striving to fill in the silence.
“There has been many gifts brought to the temple.” He said, clasping his hands together. “Donations have also increased, all thanks to you and yours.”
“What do you do with the donations?” A curious Kratos asked, surprising Lotor with his interest.
“Well, normally we spend much of it on food and medicine.” Explained the priest. “I dare say we will have an overabundance of wealth to see to maintaining the temple since so many have been healed.” He paused, turning anxious. “Of course, we will offer you the gifts the people have given. And the money if you would like. It was you who did perform the miracles.”
Lotor was tempted to tell them to keep it all, but the King was well aware of how high the Drule’s expenses had run in tending to the sick of the city. “Please…allow us a few coins so that we may bolster the economy with our own purchases.”
“Very well.” He saw Alfor nod his approval, the human king apparently not wanting to owe the Drules any more than necessary. The priest continued to speak, ready to rattle off a list of the gifts the people had brought for their Gods. “You will have your pick of the items. Fine cloth, dazzling jewels, even a farm animal or two. The people were most generous in expressing their thanks to you.”
“Just so long as they didn’t go broke in buying those gifts.” Lotor warned as they walked. They were descending down stairs, heading towards the ground level. Lotor was the first to clear the steps, and he blinked in surprise to spy waist length blond hair trailing down a navy blue cloak of velvet. He already knew who it was before she turned, Lotor not having spied any other human girl with hair quite like Allura’s. “Princess, you are here….”
She turned and smiled at him, looking delighted to see Lotor. “Hello your highness.” She said, performing a low curtesy. White skirts peaked out beneath her cloak, hinting at the gown she wore beneath the velvet fabric. “I hear the boy survived.” He was already nodding, seeing her smile grow even more dazzling. “And it’s all thanks to you!”
“Well….more in part to Doctor Reaver and her assistants.” Lotor said, surprised to find he was flustered by Allura’s praise.
“Yes, we mustn’t forget the Goddess of healing and her staff.” Fordham said, coming up behind Lotor. “They worked tirelessly under King Lotor’s watchful eye.” Footsteps clicked across the floor, drawing their attention to an approaching woman. Lotor stifled a sigh, even as the priest called out, somehow managing to be ecstatic to see Merla. “Ah Goddess, it is good of you to join us.” He bowed to her, but Merla barely acknowledge him, her gold eyes still retaining their anger as she looked at Lotor.
“And just what are we up to this evening?” She asked, and it was Fordham who answered.
“We are about to greet the people of Altea.”
“How…interesting.” She said in a bored tone, turning to leave them.
“And afterwards we shall inspect the gifts, some of which your King has agreed to accept.” Merla suddenly whirled around, shooting a glare at Lotor.
“I thought you said we could not take from the humans?!” She demanded in the Drule language. Allura’s eyes had grown wide, the girl not missing the angry tone of Merla’s voice.
“I’ve changed my mind.” Lotor retorted, tone cold. “We’ll take what they can afford to part with but no more.”
“That’s not fair!” She protested, hands on her hips.
“It’s fair to both us and the humans.” Lotor replied, even as she stalked towards him, holding out her hand to him.
“The necklace, give it to me!”
“Only if you intend to return it to that woman.” Lotor said, watching as her lips formed a sullen pout.
“I could not return it even if I wanted to.” Merla told him, examining her nails. “All these humans look alike to me. I could not even tell you if the woman was brown or white.”
“You have an eye for detail Merla. Learn to use it for something other than jewels.” She hmphed at that, Lotor noticing that Doctor Reaver and her staff had joined them on the floor, many of them looking sleepy eyed. “Everyone one is here?” Lotor asked, switching back to Arusian, trying to play it that nothing strange had happened between him and Merla.
“Just about.” Reaver said, the tired woman eager to get this over with so she could return to bed.
“Then let us greet our public.” Lotor said, and turned towards the priest, Fordham eager to lead them out to the front of the temple. Kratos seemed ill at ease, resting his hand on the pommel of his sword, surely having private conniptions about his King going among so many humans. Merla moved past Allura, nose held at a snooty angle as she ignored the princess. But she made no move to leave, eager to bask in the adulation of the crowd.
Alfor took his daughter by the arm, and walked with her through the rooms, the two holding a whispered conversation. Lotor fought to keep from scowling, his recent exchange with Merla returning his anger to him ten fold.
It didn’t take them long to reach the main entrance of the temple, the ceiling length doors flung wide open. The roar of the crowd grew louder as they caught sight of the approaching Drules, the people cheering and going wild. Many were dropping to their knees, tears on their faces as they worshipped before whom they believed was their Gods. There was even a few who fainted, or went into hysterics, as though they could not believe what they were seeing.
Still others threw wreaths of flowers in the direction of the Drules, Kratos tensing up as though each was some form of projectile weapon. A few even threw small bags of coins, or jewels, altar boys from the temple waiting on the sidelines to gather the gifts up.
Amidst the cheering Lotor could hear his companions speaking in Drule, some of Reaver’s staff dazed by the reception they were receiving. Bedazzled though they were, they soon got over it to revel in the crowd’s admiration, Lotor catching a few murmured words. They spoke almost wistfully, saying they had never before gotten such a reception to their hard work. That wasn’t too troublesome, although Lotor worried when one said something about how they could grow used to this kind of treatment.
Gazing at the worshipful people, Lotor realized how truly addictive their praise and devotion was, the King wondering how his people would handle such reactions on a daily basis. Almost as troublesome was Merla, the woman smiling, genuine pleasure on her face as she posed and preened before the crowd. She would have no problem encouraging their worship of her, and Lotor realized he would be busy keeping a closer eye on her dealings with the humans.