He listened to the sounds that filled the air, people talking, shouting to be heard over the thwacking sound of axes. Those axes made a continuous sound, being driven again and again into trees. The leaves rustled, a small flock of red crested robins taking flight, disturbed more by the vibrations the axes sent into their homes than the noise. They weren’t the only birds to flee, other winged specimens squawking in distress as they performed a hurried evacuation of the forest.
Tiny woodland creatures also did a hasty exit, leaping from branch to branch, not daring to come so close to the people. The humans paid the animals no mind, seeming unconcerned with the anxiety they were causing them. But the Drules looked bothered, surely remembering how their own actions had caused most of the animals on planet Doom to die out completely.
And yet it was necessary work, the forest needing to be cut down in the name of progress. Lotor tried to tell himself they wouldn’t take more than was needed, the king determined that neither the humans nor the Drules repeat the errors that had led to planet Doom’s downfall. He reassured himself by pointing out that much of planet Arus was woodlands, the human cities spread far from one another. Even if the Drules should build their own cities, there would still be plenty of land left to the wildlife of the planet.
As for the land itself, it was several acres worth of ground that King Alfor had loaned out to the Drules, the human ruler agreeing to allow them to build upon it. It wasn’t enough for a city, not by a long shot, but it was large enough that they could build their greenhouses. They need only clear the trees, the Drules gathering the logs, intent on saving them to use in the creation of goods.
Currently there was more humans than Drules out in the forest, the people of Arus all too eager to be of help to their Gods. Most of the Drules were standing about in an advisory position, watching over the humans as they worked to clear out the trees. Many were armed, swords and pistols, ready but reluctant to shoot the more dangerous animals that strayed to near to the wood cutters.
So far they had been fortunate, only two Ursine creatures had appeared, a mother and her cub. She had taken a swipe at one of the humans, and to the Drules regret they had had to fire a warning shot to get her to back off. She had quickly picked up her cub by the ruff of it’s neck and scampered off, leaving a thin trail of blood behind as proof of her existence.
Lotor sighed, and with that deep breath came the sweet smell of wild apples, a fruit that populated many of the trees that were being cut down. Women from the city were here, carrying baskets that they used to place inside the apples that they picked. Word had spread that an apple festival would follow the day’s activities, the women sure to bake the apples into all kind of meals.
It was more than just the scent of apples that came with the wind, it was the scent of nature, a clean smelling air Lotor was sure he would never get tired of. It was such a welcome relief after breathing two years worth of recycled air, and the distant memories of the pollutants that filled Doom’s sky. He could almost smile as he basked in the sunlight, the time nearing mid day, a gentle breeze combating the heat.
Almost, he thought, glancing across the partially cleared field at the pink haired woman. His betrothed Merla was out among the humans, standing a safe distance away from their axes. She was showing increased interest in the Arusians, playing up her role as Goddess Supreme. Out of all the Drule women they had let off the ships, Merla was clearly the most beautiful, at least when it came to physical appeal!
Her personality less so, but the humans seemed oblivious to her faults, likening her to be their Goddess of Beauty. Goddess of Vanity was more like it in Lotor’s opinion, Merla spending much of her time eating up the praises the humans heaped on her. But she wasn’t the only one, more of the Drules who had been let off the ships were starting to get into their roles as the Arusian’s Gods.
They had the humans doing much for them, sending them scurrying about on tasks that ranged from serious to silly. Lotor was constantly admonishing the Drules, reminding them to stop taking gifts from the humans. Gifts that were extravagant, some of the humans seeking to bribe their Gods into blessing them with good fortune or long life.
Many a time Lotor forced them to return their gifts, but that didn’t stop the problem, the humans then donating the items to the temples, hoping the tokens would reach their Gods one way or another. Take today for example, the people working in the woods were all volunteers, looking appalled when Lotor tried to pay them a fair wage. Some had all but broken down in tears, bereft at the thought of taking money from their Gods. It had left Lotor in a foul mood, the King leaving Kratos and Traad to try and deal with the foolishness of these humans.
The Drules could have, should have done this work themselves, but that would have meant letting more of them off the ships. Lotor was still hesitant about introducing them all at once, still worried how the humans would react to the more monstrous looking Drules. The humans were often quick to speak on the Drules’ beauty, often remarking how relieved they were that the Drules resembled them in looks.
Even more troubling was some of the tapestries he had come across in Pelphine temple, images of monstrous beings being killed, or tortured in some gruesome fashion. The lord high priest Fordham had explained to Lotor that the grotesque beings were demons, the exact opposite of the kind and beautiful Gods. The Arusians seemed to abhor those that were different or ugly, babies that were born with imperfections being suffocated at birth rather than suffered to live.
If that was the Arusians attitude, they would have to introduce the rest of the Drule race slowly, perhaps starting with some of the less attractive ones such as the commander of his army, Cossack the Terrible. The Drule wasn’t exactly ugly, but neither was he handsome, bearing straggly white hair that reminded Lotor of dirty snow. If the humans reacted well to Cossack and others like him, then maybe they could tolerate the lizard like beastmen.
Either way, the Drules trapped on board the ships were beginning to resent being cooped up all the time, the men and women eager to get out and explore this new world. They were especially eager to meet the humans, having heard the others speak on how they were worshipped and adored by the Arusians. Lotor didn’t know how to break it to them that the humans would most likely run screaming in the opposite direction, rather than drop down to their knees.
This time when he sighed it was not to appreciate the air, but to give voice to the exasperation he felt. He’d feel better if he could share his worries with someone, Lotor feeling he could never completely unburden himself. Not to Merla, not to the Drules, and certainly not to the humans. In this moment he felt as alone in his worries as he was in distance from the people working the forest, Lotor standing on a patch of ground that was slightly elevated. It allowed him to gaze down at the disappearing woods, Lotor keeping a watchful eye even as he remained lost in thoughts.
The Drules that were allowed off the ships spent much of their time in the temples of Altea, many choosing not to return to the ships until nightfall. Some even spent the night, and Lotor heard rumors that these few were abusing their divine status, taking human lovers to their beds. He had yet to catch anyone in the act, and Phor had pointed out that so long as the humans were willing, there was no crime being committed.
Lotor failed to make them understand that the humans were so in awe of those they believed were Gods, it probably never occurred to them to say no. Choice was important, and Lotor did not want any humans, be they men or women, crying foul in the future. The last thing the Drules needed was to be condemned because of a few’s lust, Lotor wondering if the humans and the Drules were even capable of creating children together.
~If they are mating…~ Lotor thought, fighting a scowl. ~I hope they think enough to use preventive measures.~
He continued to watch over the forest, noting what good progress the humans were making with their axes. It still was not as fast had the Drules brought out chainsaws, but Lotor was determined they only use certain items around the humans. Nor did he want to risk polluting the land with fuel guzzling construction vehicles, the Drules grumbling about having to build their greenhouses the old fashion way,
~If it’s good enough for the humans, it’s good enough for us.~ Lotor reasoned to himself, scanning the area that had been cleared of trees. To his surprise he saw a carriage rolling to a stop, the white and dabble gray stallions pawing anxiously at the ground, disturbed by the noise. The driver had to struggle to rein them in, the person in the carriage growing impatient and opening the door.
To his surprise Allura emerged, a woman with chestnut curls following her, a medium sized basket in her hands. The princess turned to stare at the trees, a gloved hand being raised over her brow as she shielded her eyes from the sun. She was wearing a pale purple gown, accented with white trimmings, and her long hair was pinned back by matching barrettes.
It left him wondering what she was doing here, Lotor finding he was already moving towards her. The woman with her noticed his approach, her lips parting as she whispered to get Allura’s attention. The princess turned, and her blue eyes lit up, the girl excited to see Lotor.
“Greetings you highness.” She said, meeting him halfway across the clearing. “It is a beautiful day.”
“That it is.” He agreed, trying not to stare when she curtsied. She was always so respectful around him, even more so than her father, Alfor had ever been. “What brings you here?”
“I wanted to see you.” She said, then colored, Lotor having learned that humans did a thing called blushing when they were embarrassed or feeling shy. “That is…” Her white gloved fingertips pressed together, the girl fidgeting before him. “I wanted to see what you and your people were doing here.”
“It’s not much yet I am afraid.” Lotor said, giving a wave towards the remaining trees, of which there was still many. “It will be some days before there is anything worth seeing.”
“Then I will just have to come again.” Allura smiled at him, giving him the impression she had been looking for just such an excuse. “Will you sit with me?” She gestured at the basket the woman held. “The cooks at the castle packed a picnic lunch. There is more than enough for several people.”
Lotor knew he probably shouldn’t, that he should find a way to let the girl down gently. But he found himself nodding his head, the girl clasping her hands together in gleeful anticipation.
“Wonderful!” She said, and took the basket from the woman that accompanied her. “Nanny, would you go and fetch us the blanket from the carriage?”
“Yes, princess.” The woman said, giving a slight bow of her body before turning away from them. Allura stepped closer to Lotor, and he reached for the basket, intending to take the burden from her. His fingers brushed the back of her hand in the process, an electric jolt so similar to the one they had experience upon their first meeting flaring up between them. The color bloomed redder on Allura’s cheeks, leaving Lotor to wonder just what emotion she was feeling.
“Here…let me carry that.” Lotor said, and pulled the basket from a protesting Allura’s grasp. “It looks too heavy for a girl as….soft as you.”
“I’m a lot tougher than I look.” Allura told him, though she looked pleased by his actions.
“I don’t doubt that you are strong.” Lotor replied, and together they began walking, trying to get away from the noise of the woods. “You proved as much the first day we met.”
“Oh? How?” She wanted to know.
“By remaining standing in our presence.” Lotor answered. “You weren’t quick to make judgments, you retained your wits about you.”
“Only to a certain point.” Allura was quick to point out. “I ended up on my knees at the end.”
“Well, you just had a shock.” Lotor said kindly. “You and your father, were the only ones to not drop down at the first sight of me and my people.” He sighed then, not meaning to mutter what he did. “I just wish the rest of the humans we keep on meeting weren’t so quick to react in that manner.”
“You don’t like their display of devotion?” She questioned, and Lotor found himself shrugging.
“It can get tiresome being kneeled to all the time.”
“I suppose it is much like bowing.” Allura said, giving him a side long glance. “I do get tired of everyone always dropping what they are doing to bow or curtsey to me.”
“Ah bowing and kneeling…both things I have had enough of in my lifetime!” chuckled Lotor, surprised at how easy the confession came to him. It was just something about Allura that set him at ease, the king realizing had she been Merla, she would have acted horrified at the thought of getting one’s fill of such displays of obedience.
“How old are you your highness?” Allura asked, then hastily added. “I’m sorry, was that rude of me?”
“Not at all.” Lotor said, smiling to show he did not mind. “I am nearly twenty-four years of age.”
“I had thought you were older.” She confessed, leaving Lotor to wonder just how old he had looked to the girl.
“I suppose it’s the throne. Ruling my people hasn’t been very easy.” Another confession from Lotor, the man stifling a sigh. “And you princess? How old are you?”
“Ah it is rude to ask a lady her age.” She tittered nervously, then smiled. “But I will tell you anyway. I am eighteen come this month.” He let his surprise show in his eyes, Lotor not having expected her to be quite that young. “Is it that surprising?”
“No.” He quickly shook his head no. “You just seem mature for your age.”
“Do I?’ She sounded pleased, her smile brightening. “Teacher Sashell is always telling me I have to grow up. That it’ll be years before I am fit to sit on the throne.”
“I think your teacher is being too hard on you.” Lotor began. “You…” A scream cut him off, Lotor losing the words that he had wanted to speak to Allura. Both of them were turning in the direction of the scream, Allura crying out.
The woman was on her rear, an absolutely terrified look on her face. The blanket lay crumpled a few inches to her side, something having torn open the fabric. Standing over the woman was some sort of boar, with large, deadly looking tusks protruding on either side of it’s jaw. Bits of fabric were caught on one of the tusks’ sharpened tips, the boar pawing at the ground.
Lotor did not have time to wonder where the creature had come from, the picnic basket already falling to the ground. It’s contents splattered into the grass, most of the food and drink being wasted in the process. “Stay here!” Lotor ordered, and was already running, his hand drawing his sword. This hiss of his blade accompanied the action, the lazon metal humming loudly.
Other Drules were running towards the woman and the boar, but at this distance they wouldn’t make it time, the creature lowering it’s head. It was preparing to gore the woman on it’s tusks, Lotor letting out a challenging roar as he ran forward. So fierce was his bellow that it gave the creature pause, the boar not taking it’s eyes off the frightened woman.
He issued out another roar, arriving close enough to slash at the boar’s side. It was a warning strike, blood coloring the bold blue of his sword, Lotor making a wound that bled profusely for such a thin cut. He was relieved to see the boar turn from the woman, Lotor wondering if he’d be forced to cut off one of it’s tusks. The act wouldn’t kill the creature, though it would perhaps limit it’s ability to protect itself from predators.
The boar squealed in defiance, angrily pawing at the ground as it glared down it’s snout at Lotor. Lotor met it’s reddened eyes, legs spread wide in a defensive stance. He gripped his sword one handed, other arm bent at an angle. The beast snorted, and then was charging, Lotor pivoting on his feet to slash off one of it’s tusks. His empty hand slapped down hard on the beast’s rump, the creature squealing in pained surprise.
The tusk lay at his feet, the creature kept on running, having decided it was better to cut it’s losses than risk losing something more valuable than it’s tusk. Lotor kept his eyes on the boar, watching as it ran off towards some bushes. The other Drules were also watching, cautious should the beast turn back towards their King.
“That was amazing!” It was the princess speaking, the girl sounding breathless as she ran up to Lotor. Her eyes blazed with excitement, and she stared up at him.
“It was nothing.” Lotor said modestly, secretly pleased by her praise.
“It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen!” Allura continued, and it was then that he realized she was staring at his sword, her praise not for his battle prowess but his blade. “It glows like lightning! What is that? How can you hold it without being shocked?”
“It’s not lightning Allura.” Lotor said, lowering his sword arm. He held it away from his body, shaking the blood off his sword. “It’s lazon.”
“Lazon?” She repeated the unfamiliar word, eyes still staring in awe at the blade.
“Yes…it’s a kind of metal. Very rare…very hard to come by.” Once the metal had been abundant, the underground mines of Doom filled with lazon. But like with so many of the planet’s resources, they had mined it to extinction, leaving the few lazon blades in existence a highly sought after item. As expensive as it was rare, Lotor was proud to own not one but two such swords.
“It cut that animal’s side without even stabbing into it.” Allura murmured, cocking her head to the side.
“It’s very sharp.” Lotor understated the properties of the lazon sword, turning to look at the woman who still sat crumpled on the ground. “I think your…nanny is all right.”
“Oh nanny!” Allura looked chagrined to have ignored the woman, reaching to help her stand. “Are you okay? Do you need to sit?”
“I think I will wait in the carriage if you don’t mind princess.” The woman was pale, all the color drained out her face. Allura nodded in understanding, pausing long enough to watch the woman walk on shaky legs back to the carriage.
“Thank you for saving her.” Allura said. “Her and the creature. Not many would spare the life of an animal attacking a person.”
“It was just reacting to what was going on around it.” Lotor retorted. “We’re intruding into it’s home. Not only that, we’re destroying it.”
“I hadn’t thought of it like that.” She had the grace to look sad, the princess troubled by what they were doing. He didn’t like seeing that look in her eyes, Lotor finding sadness did not suit Allura.
“Here…” He reached for her hand, brining it towards the hilt of his sword. “I want you to hold this for a minute.” Her eyes widened in surprise, some of the sadness leaking away as he wrapped her fingers around the sword’s hilt.
“It’s light!” Allura exclaimed, and moved her arm, Lotor just barely avoiding the blade’s jerky movement. “And it sings as I move it!” She let her arm drop, peering curiously at Lotor. “Are you sure this is not a lightning bolt I hold in my hand?”
“No princess.” Lotor smiled. “I promise it’s not a lightning bolt.” He was watching her move the sword, trying not to flinch at her clumsy handling. Finally he could not take it, urging her to grip the sword with both hands. “Here princess.” Lotor stepped into her back, feeling her go stiff with surprise at his nearness. His arms reached around her body, his large hands covering her smaller ones as Lotor helped her move the sword about.
They did slow complex slashes, Allura laughing in delight to see how the glow seemed to linger in the air for a second. Lotor tried not to lean into her any further, finding he was being distracted by the softness of her body, and the sweet perfume of her hair.
“I fear I have no talent for wielding the sword on my own.” She murmured, face forward to watch the blue blade.
“Anyone can learn if they have a good enough teacher, and the patience and will to work hard.” Lotor told her, finding his voice was dropping to a husky whisper.
“Would you teach me?” She asked, voice dripping with hope. A hope Lotor did not want to dash, the King choosing his words carefully.
“I think your father might raise objections to my lessons.”
“I’m sure I could persuade him to allow them.” Allura was starting to shift in his arms, turning so that her face was angled towards his. She had to tilt back her head to stare up at him, Lotor realizing that all it would take was for him to bend downwards to steal a kiss from her sweet lips. He stifled the groan that came with the realization, Lotor fighting the temptation to give in.
It became harder to resist when Allura’s lips parted, her tongue flicking out to moisten her bottom lip. His voice grew even huskier, Lotor staring at her mouth, wondering if the rose color was her natural hue, or if she wore some kind of lip gloss. “And just what would you say to convince him to let you take up the sword?”
“I…” Another tantalizing lick of her lips, the girl’s breath seeming to come faster as she blushed. “I’d tell him even princesses need to know how to defend themselves.”
“A very good point…one that he might be inclined to agree with.” Lotor said, finding his head was starting to bow down towards hers. They were still gripping the sword, Allura twisted at an awkward angle though she didn’t seem to mind. Too bad for them both they were being observed, a female voice snidely intruding in on their moment.
“Well.” Merla said, enunciating every Arusian word for full effect. “Isn’t this a cozy scene?” Her appearance left Lotor both damning and praising the female, the king knowing if she had not arrived when she did, he would have kissed the princess, consequences be damned!
He could feel the gaze of Merla’s golden eyes boring into his back, Lotor realizng that though he did not owe her an explanation, she’d be expectign one all the same. The problem was he didn’t know what he was going to tell the Drule!