By the time her carriage reached the heart of Altea, Allura had managed to compose herself, her tears drying. The redness hadn’t had time to fade from her eyes, but at least her cheeks were dry, and she no longer sniffled constantly. With the cessation of her tears, came new worries, Allura suddenly finding herself nervous, her mouth drying as she tried not to doubt what she was doing.
She fought a battle inside herself, worrying over what her father would do when he learned of her whereabouts, and wondering just what she would say to Lotor when she saw him. Her earlier, determined fire was starting to fade, Allura turning hesitant. Such hesitation didn’t stop her from swinging open the carriage door once the coach pulled into view of Pelphine temple, her driver letting out a shout of alarm as Allura attempted to step down from the still moving carriage.
The carriage pulled to a hasty stop, Allura clinging to the sides of the door as she stepped down. The carriage driver still struggled to rein in the excited horses, calling after Allura as she hurried towards the steps of the temple. She barely acknowledged him, shouting out a hurried order.
“Tend to the horses!” She paused, realizing she did not know how long her business here would take. “Wait for me at the tavern!”
“Yes, princess.” The man said, climbing down the front of the carriage to approach the horses. She could hear them snorting, all but panting from the exertion of the speedy journey. They’d welcome the break, along with water and oats, and Allura wondered if they’d even be fit to make the journey back to the castle this night.
The moon had changed position several times in the black sky, and she knew it was only hours before sun up. Allura should have been tired, but anxiety kept her up, along with a nervous excitement at the thought of seeing the God. She rushed up the stairs, passing by half awake vagrants, and several people who insisted on camping out on the temple grounds. Even at this time a night, they were ready to worship the Gods, though they were fewer in number at the moment.
She reached the precipice of the stone steps, and approached the entrance of the temple. Two temple guards were there, already pulling open the doors, having recognized her. She breezed past them into the temple, and paused, wondering where to go next. She had the sudden troubling thought that Lotor and the other Gods could have already boarded their ships, which would render her escape from the castle futile.
An altar boy was rushing towards her, still dressed in the reddish brown robes of service. He looked as surprised as he was tired, shocked to see her pay a visit to the temple at such an ungodly hour. “Princess.” A hasty bow before her, the youth speaking. “To what do we owe this visit? Are you in need of a priest?” Such was Allura’s status that if she so desired, a priest would be awakened to tend to her. But she felt no person of the cloth could help her, not with this need of hers.
“The Gods!” She practically gasped out the words. “Are they still here? Have they left yet?”
“Many are still here.” The altar boy assured her.
Her relief did not come, Allura demanding the following. “And what of their leader? What of King Lotor? Is he still here?”
“He may be on one of the ships.” Her disappointment was apparent, the altar boy hastily adding. “But the ship that brought them here has not yet departed. I could send a messenger to convey your interest to the God.”
“Please do!” Allura bade him, and moved to follow the altar boy through the temple. The torch lit halls were empty on this floor, Allura being guided to a side room that was out of the way of the main ceremonial chambers. The altar boy urged her to sit, Allura sinking onto the stone bench, and clutching at her cloak’s fabric with her hands. So tight was her grip, that the color bled out of her knuckles, Allura fretting over what was to happen.
Even worse was the thought of Lotor’s possible refusal to see her, the girl not knowing if and what Merla could have said to the God. Thoughts coming so fast that she was almost dizzy, Allura sat staring off in the distance. She was not aware of how much time passed, before she heard boot steps on the tile. Allura was already rising to her feet, fingers still fastened onto the cloak when Lotor and the much shorter Traad entered the room.
“Princess Allura?” A quizzical look was on Lotor’s face, the King covering the distance to her side. “What are you doing here at this time of night?”
“Please!” She almost reached out to touch him, hoping to convey her sense of urgency. “I need to speak with you.” A slide of her gaze at Traad, Allura stressing the words. “Alone if possible.” Lotor started to frown and shake his head no, and this time she really did touch him, her eyes pleading with him as she cried out, “Please!”
A hesitation from Lotor, and then he was nodding. “Very well. Traad, if you would be so kind as to leave us.” Traad was also frowning, but did not contest the politely worded order, instead choosing to do a low bow to both Allura and Lotor.
“I shall be outside if you need me.”
Lotor waited until the door was closed, and then turned to her, a curious lift of his brow as he spoke. “Well, princess, we are alone as you desired. Now what brings you before me, and in such an agitated state?”
“I…” So many words wanted to come out, Allura not sure where to begin. “I wanted…no needed to see you.” Polite silence from the God, Lotor waiting for her to elaborate. She began to fidget with her fingers, and started to turn, then decided against putting her back to him. “You left my party without saying a proper good-bye to me.” Even to herself it sounded like she was whining, Allura cringing at her sullen accusation.
“I thought it best after upsetting your father.” Lotor explained, then frowned. “Speaking of which, does he know you are here?”
“No! No, he doesn’t.” Allura made a sound, a half choked laugh. “He’ll be very cross with me when he discovers I’ve come to you.”
“I’ve no doubt about that.” Lotor agreed. “Which is why I feel you’re coming here must be something urgent and important for you to risk upsetting your father. So please princess, tell me what is on your mind.”
“I couldn’t let it end.” She blurted out, seeing how her exclamation left the God confused. “I couldn’t let tonight be the last time I saw you.”
“Last time you saw me?” He echoed, cocking his head to the side. “Are you going somewhere princess?”
“Allura! Call me Allura!” She insisted, than answered his question. “No. But my father….he has forbidden me to have any further contact with you.” A lift of his brows showed Lotor looking even more surprised, Allura’s fingers curling into helpless fists. “It was more than just the dancing that has upset him. The Goddess, Merla, has been talking to him. Telling him things.”
“What sort of things?”
“That I am a temptation to you. That we have been….inappropriate with each other.” Her cheeks started to heat up, her blush blooming. “That we almost kissed.” He said nothing to that, just studying her. “It’s more than just talk. The Goddess set us up to be alone with each other. Alone and have it be witnessed by my father.”
“That sounds like something Merla would do.” Lotor muttered under his breath.
“The Goddess is a vengeful woman.” Allura said, surprised when Lotor let out a short bark of laughter.
“Allura, you have no idea just how vengeful she can be.” Those words made her shiver, Allura wondering just how much worse things could become at the Goddess’ whim.
She didn’t mean to, but she blurted out the first thing that came to her mind. “How can you stand to have such a woman as your bride to be?” Immediately she gasped, blush deepening as she brought her hands to her mouth as though to stifle her words. “AH…forgive me! I mean no disrespect!”
“None taken.” Lotor reassured her kindly. “As for my relationship with Merla, it’s strained at best. And not one of my choosing.” His words puzzled her, Allura staring at him. “It was our parent’s arrangement.” He didn’t need to explain, but she was grateful all the same that he did.
“So it’s not for love that you marry her?” Her heart practically did cartwheels in her chest, so happy was she when he shook his head.
“No…I doubt anyone could love someone with such an acidic personality.”
“I’m sorry.” Allura told him, a sad look in her eyes. “I know how it feels to be pressured into choosing duty over love.”
“It’s one of the unspoken privileges of royalty.” Lotor’s tone was wry, his words sarcastic.
“It’s unfortunate how true those words are.” Allura sighed. Lotor looked like he wanted to say more, but
then he gave a sudden shake of his head. “Lotor?”
“It’s nothing.” He said, and his next words had her shoulders sagging. “It’s late, and you should return to your castle.”
“I don’t want to!” She sounded like a petulant child, but Allura wanted to grasp hold of every stolen moment that she could.
“There’s not much more we can say…” Lotor told her. “I thank you for alerting me to Merla’s manipulations…”
“Don’t say good-bye!” She p interjected her protests over his words, reaching out to touch his arms with both hands. “I don’t want this to end!”
“This?” A questioning look, Lotor puzzled.
“This…” She gestured with one hand, still clinging to him with the other. “Us.”
“Princess….there is no us.”
His words were like a thunderbolt, slamming into her painfully. “No…there is…!”
“You are imagining things.” Lotor said firmly, and she shook her head, not quite shouting.
“I am not! I have not imagined the spark between us! And do not tell me it is one sided, this infatuation we share! Lotor, I LIKE you…I like you a lot. And I believe you also share affection for me. An affection that threatens the Goddess!”
“You’ve mistaken my kindness for something else…” Lotor began, and Allura was once again holding onto him with both hands.
“No! I know I have not misread the situation. That time at the greenhouse, you almost kissed me. I could tell how much you wanted to, and I echoed that desire!” He looked very much like he was going to protest, something she could not allow, could not stand to hear. So she did the only thing she could think of, hauling him down as she went up on tip toe.
For a man who refused the attraction between them, he was surprisingly easy to move, Allura easily closing the distance between their mouths. Lotor had enough time to mutter her name in warning, and then she was kissing him, her soft lips pressed against his. For a second he was unyielding, lips dead to her urgent movements. But Allura persisted, long enough to hear the God let out a low throated growl, his hands moving, coming up to clutch at her as desperately as she clung to him.
The God took control of the kiss, Allura moaning softly, allowing his tongue to lick across her lips. This was a kiss worth fighting for, a kiss like those she had read about, all fire and passion, sending burning need coursing through her as nerves she had never been aware came alive at his touch.
The kiss continued, and it seemed as though time itself had stopped. Allura actually whimpered when Lotor began to pull back, even as she desperately needed the reprieve for air. It seemed he too needed a moment, Lotor breathing far heavier than she had ever seen a man do. His eyes were heavy with desire, slits of his eyes thinned out as he looked at her.
Allura felt she wore just as dazed and desired an expression as the God, her chest heaving beneath her cloak as she tried to get her breath back. “See?” She didn’t quite giggle, feeling giddy and triumphant in the moment. “No man could kiss a woman like that…not without desire, not without an attraction between them!”
To her disappointment, she watched the transformation come over him, his expression going blank as he tried to muster up his cool resolve. “The kiss was a mistake…”
“It was not!” She was already tugging at him, ready to kiss him senseless until he agreed with her.
“We’re being foolish…both of us…” Lotor told her. “We each have duties to our kingdoms…Duties we cannot ignore…”
She bit back her response, not wanting to reveal that at this moment she did not give a damn about duty. “But you like me!”
“You do! I know you do!” Allura exclaimed. “How can I turn my back on this, on us, when I have finally found you!”
“You’re young, you will find another.” Lotor said, and she shook her head so hard her hair bounced around her face.
“I don’t want another. I don’t want to have to settle for someone else. Lotor!” She pressed against him now, close enough to feel his breath rustle her hair. “I want you…”
“‘I am engaged to another woman…and your father has forbidden contact between us…”
“We’ll make it work.” She knew she was being stubborn, but Allura refused to let him sway her mind. “We’ll speak to my father, and make him understand…”
“I’m afraid he won’t…”
“He reacted hastily, but we can reason with him. My father is not an irrational man!” Allura said, just as Lotor eased her away from him.
“And what if you’re wrong about him?” Lotor demanded so harshly that Allura’s eyes widened. “Allura, the bond between father and daughter is special. It makes a man want to protect his child, makes him blind at times to ration and reason.”
“Not my father…” Allura insisted, even as she recalled how angry he had looked.
“I’m sorry, but I cannot risk it.”
“Cannot risk it? You have everything to gain, and nothing to lose but love!” Allura exclaimed.
“There’s plenty to lose!” Lotor snapped, his apparent anger making her stare at him shocked. “I have to think of my people. Of their futures! Allura, if I continue to defy your father, if I risk his anger, I risk losing everything I have won for my people.”
“My father wouldn’t punish a kingdom for one man’s desire…” Allura began, but Lotor cut her off.
“Can you be so sure? If he wanted to put distance between us, he could break the treaty, tell my people to find a home somewhere else.” He shook his head, white hair falling into his eyes. When Allura reached up to brush it back, Lotor leapt back as though her touch burned.
“Lotor…” Such a sad tone in her voice, Allura staring at him. She didn’t voice what she thought, not wanting him to confirm that his people and his duty to them meant more to him than she did.
“I’m sorry Allura…..but no….this…we, cannot be.” She just stared at him, refusing to cry. Lotor sighed, looking sad and far older than he actually was. “Go home princess…go home and forget this night ever happened, forget we ever happened.”
A shake of her head, and when he reached out to her, as though he could not help himself, Allura moved. She ducked under his arm, and ran from the room, jerking open the door. Her appearance startled Traad, and she turned to cast one last glance in Lotor’s direction. “My father is a fool…….and so are you!” Her eyes blazed with that proclamation, Allura not caring if she was blaspheming to a God.
He didn’t say anything to that, turning his back to her in a clear sign of dismissal. Allura choked back a sob, and pushed past Traad to run blindly through the corridors of the temple. Tears steamed down her face, the heartbroken girl unable to stop them. She wasn’t sure where she was going, not ready to return to the castle and face her father who by now surely knew of her escape.
She trembled at the thought of his anger, knowing she had risked his wrath and disappointment, and come away with nothing to show for it. Lotor didn’t want her enough to be with her. He was too consumed with his duty, and the angry upset she felt couldn’t hide the admiration she felt that he was that devoted to his people. ~He is a good ruler.~ Allura realized, sniffling. ~The kind of man I would want as King for my people.~
It left her wishing she could marry him, even as she cursed him for abandoning her. As she wandered the temple, she soon smelled the perfume of the night blooming flowers in the backyard. She hurried towards the temple’s garden, thinking that was as good a place to cry as any. And got the shock of her life, spying one of the strange ships of the Gods, parked amidst the flowers.
She wasn’t sure what caused her to press against a column, peering out into the garden, but she was glad that she did. For Merla was there, a frown on her face, with her hands on her hips. She was staring towards the building, but turned when footsteps emerged from the ship. She heard the Goddess speak, her words angry as she gestured.
The men who emerged laughed, a cruel ugly sound that showed they were as angry as the Goddess. Allura couldn’t understand what they were saying, the Goddess and the men speaking in that strange language of theirs. But her eyes widened all the same, Allura staring in horror at the sight of the men. And men was a polite term for them, Allura thinking they were some kind of demons, with twisted features that reminded her of a lizard human half breed.
They were tall, towering over the Goddess, with their heads clean of any hair, though a few bore spiked protrusions on their skulls. Ears that were pointed like the Gods, with sickly yellow or milk white eyes, and row upon row of razor sharp teeth. They frightened Allura witless, and it was only her fear that kept her from crying out, the girl taking a step back from the column.
Only to press into the back of someone, Allura whirling around just in time to see a nightmare cloaked in shadows. Even with the darkness on the demon’s face, she could see the gleaming eyes, and spy the saliva coated fangs as he smiled at her. She let out a tiny whimper, and as the demon reached for her, Allura did the only thing she could do. She screamed.