He felt he was living a nightmare, one he could neither wake up from nor change the outcome of, Alfor sighing as he stood by the window of his private study. He wasn’t watching the people in the castle’s courtyard, staring beyond them as he thought his turbulent thoughts. His beloved daughter Allura was missing, nearly four days had passed since the night he had exchanged harsh words with her.
Alfor often replayed the last conversation he had with his daughter, cringing as he realized he had driven her to flee the castle. He wondered what he could have done differently, if he could have tried to be more understanding about her fascination with the so called Gods, the Drules. He snorted then, shaking his head no, knowing that fascination hadn’t been the problem, even if he thought she should be less quick to believe the claims of these visitors. The real problem had been her attraction to their King, the flirtations she was enjoying with a man who was all but married to another.
He still remembered how he felt when Merla broke the news to him, the Drule female concerned, eyes reflecting her upset. Alfor had been alarmed by the upset, understanding Merla would not have brought the flirtation to his attention unless she felt there was a chance of it developing into something more. Merla had been threatened by Allura’s effect on her betrothed, and she looked to Alfor to guide the girl, to put an end to the affair before it started, something Lotor seemed loathe to do.
He hadn’t wanted to believe the King was encouraging Allura, but then he had come across them in the courtyard. Where once he might have lacked suspicion at their sharing a quiet moment away from the party, Merla’s words had echoed through his mind, Alfor tense and frowning. Especially when he saw his daughter in Lotor’s arms, the two smiling, the girl looking far more happier than he could ever recall seeing.
Of course he hadn’t confronted her right away, choosing to give them both some time to cool down. Alfor had been afraid his words would have been especially heated, and he much prefer expending some of his upset on Lotor, formalities be damned. But he had left the King of the Drules in Merla’s seemingly capable hands, the woman promising to have words with her future husband.
He thought that between them, an agreement would be reached, Allura and Lotor understanding how they must be kept apart. Alfor had even ordered Allura to keep her distance from Lotor, explaining to her that that private moment in the courtyard would be the last time she would ever see the King. He never dreamed she’d go so far to disobey him, sneaking out of the castle like a thief in the night.
He was angry with the man who had driven her carriage to the city, Alfor having to remind himself that the man had a family to feed and take care of. That family was the only reason the driver hadn’t been dismissed from his duties, Alfor securing his promise to never take Allura out of the castle without the King’s expressed permission. Alfor just wished there would be a chance in the future for him and his daughter to clash about her comings and goings.
He still wasn’t sure what to think of Allura’s disappearance, or the news that Lotor himself was gone. He didn’t understand why the King would leave his people behind, why he would abandon his duties, even for a girl as pretty as Allura. Some of the rumors circulating among his people was that the God had ascended to the heavens with Allura, to make her his mortal bride.
Alfor refused to believe Lotor was a God, but he felt unsettled at the thought. After all the Drules had come from somewhere in the sky, and as eager as they were to settle on Arus, what if Lotor was bringing Allura back to where they originated from. Gods or not, these rumors were fueled by a story from their religion, the talk of how two mortal women had been taken to the heavens, bearing the children of the Gods. Children whose blood supposedly ran in Alfor and Allura’s veins.
Sometimes he worried just what Lotor could be doing to his daughter, Alfor fearing that by the time they found Allura she would be pregnant with some half breed child. That wasn’t what he wanted for her, he wanted his daughter to make a successful marriage, some kind of political arrangement that would benefit their kingdom as well as her. She was set to rule, and if she came back pregnant and unwed, the people would be quick to look down on her. She’d have little respect, even as the mother of a God!
He didn’t want to think Lotor would be so careless and uncaring of the damage he could do to Allura’s reputation, but Alfor didn’t know what else to think. Nor did he know quite what to make of Merla’s talk of a missing ship, the transport being found damaged and abandoned in Ranseyan territory.
His relationship with King Lezard and Queen Lenneth was tenuous at the best of times, border skirmishes breaking out between their people frequently. They had avoided all out war, but such was the relation between the two kingdoms, that neither ruler would openly set foot across the borders. For Alfor to enter into Lezard’s land, it could be seen as an act of aggression or an opportunity.
He feared his daughter falling into their hands, knowing she would make a tempting and valuable hostage. They could demand things of him, lands and wealth, even force him to join their side in their war against Altrexia. And all to ensure his beloved daughter remained safe. Good ruler that he was, Alfor knew he wouldn’t be able to sacrifice Allura, he’d give in to their demands in the hopes she’d be returned to him eventually.
His thoughts had him shuddering, Alfor closing his eyes. He had been forced to keep it together, keep his true feelings from showing. He could be the concerned father, but only to a point, Alfor having to keep his kingdom from falling apart. There was matters to see to, paperwork piling endlessly before him, people petitioning for the chance to meet with him.
Some of the work he was able to reassign to his government officials, but not all of it. And still he spent more time on the search for Allura than keeping his kingdom running. He was just glad he didn’t have to worry about his own household, teacher Sashell and Allura’s governess taking over those details. They did it out of a desire to help, but also with their charge gone, they were almost aimless, lost towards what to do to get through this period of endless waiting.
He could well understand their feelings, but he couldn’t share his own grief and helplessness with them. He was their King, and as such he must stand apart, suffering silently. He longed for his wife, dear Diana who had been dead for many years now, but it was a selfish desire. He didn’t want to burden her with Allura’s disappearance, but he did want her to comfort him, assure him in that kind and gentle way of hers that everything would work out.
“Diana…” Alfor whispered softly to himself. “How I miss you. If you can, watch out for our daughter…watch out, and do your best to guide her back home.” He turned from the window, inwardly groaning at the messy state of his desk, papers strewn every which way, a result of his earlier grief inducing tantrum. He was glad no one had been there to bear witness to it, Alfor starting to crack under the pressure of having no one to talk to about his deep rooted fears for his daughter.
High priest Fordham had been staying away from the castle, and it wasn’t as strange as it should have been, the priest far too enamored of the Gods to leave the temple for long. Alfor would have liked to have confided in him, but he had the sinking suspicion that Fordham would have blathered on about what a great honor Allura had received in being chosen by the King of the Gods.
Alfor didn’t see it as an honor, but he was also smart enough to know being with Lotor might be the preferred option if the alternatives meant she was dead. She might even have fallen into the hands of some unsavory types, scrupulous men and women out to make a quick buck in ransoming Allura off to the higher bidder. Alfor didn’t even want to think of the indignities that could befall Allura at their hands, the King finding it a sad state of affairs that her best options were to be a political hostage, or off enjoying a tryst with a lover.
A weary sigh escaped him, Alfor sitting down behind his desk. Somewhere, buried beneath the papers was a trinket his daughter had given him for his birthday. A simple gold locket that opened to reveal the loving words she had inscribed to him. Alfor hated the thoughts he had when he looked at the locket, the fear that this might be the last thing he would ever hold that was from his daughter.
That thought had him digging through the papers, documents falling onto the floor. He didn’t cease his frantic searching until the locket was in his hands, Alfor closing his fingers around the cold metal. “Allura…”
His grave whisper was followed with a knock on the door, Alfor straightening almost guiltily. He looked with dismay at the papers on the floor, the mess the desk was in, and sighed. “Enter.” He called, pocketing the locket, and deciding he didn’t give a damn what anyone thought about the mess.
The door opened to reveal his advisor, a tall, brown haired man with a thick bushy mustache. His dark eyes were alight with excited urgency, the man almost forgetting to bow to his King.
“Coran, what is it?” Alfor said, sensing the excitement, and trying not to get his hopes up. “It’s not Allura is it…?”
“Forgive me, your highness, we still have not located the princess.” Coran answered, straightening from his bow. “Our soldiers are prepared to leave at a moment’s notice to travel to Ranseya’s borders. However…” He was clutching something in his hand, a sheaf of paper tied with a purple ribbon. “A carrier pigeon just arrived from our man positioned in King Lezard’s court.”
“A message?” Alfor inquired, gesturing for Coran to come closer. The advisor did so, arm extended to hand over the paper. Alfor took it from him, spying the unbroken wax seal over the ribbon. He, like Coran knew their spy wouldn’t be contacting them unless it was urgent. Alfor feared the urgency meant Allura was in the hands of Lezard and Lenneth, and he broke open the seal with impatience.
Coran kept a respectful distance from him as Alfor scanned the parchment, watching the King’s face. Alfor’s expression went from overly concerned, to a perplexed arching of his brow, to finally anger. “Have Captain Erikson be brought before me.” Alfor told Coran, and the advisor looked surprised.
“Captain Erikson? But he is set to lead the mission into Ranseya’s territory…”
“I know.” Alfor said, still clutching at the message he had received. “That mission is to be aborted.”
“Aborted sire?!” Coran looked stunned.
“Yes.” Alfor made sure the door to the room was closed before speaking, his voice lowered to a soft rasp. “It seems Merla has not been entirely truthful with us.”
“Merla? You mean the Goddess?”
Alfor gave him a disapproving look, Coran coughing nervously. “I don’t care what she calls herself, I know her for what she is. A treacherous snake set upon inciting war between us, Ranseya and Altrexia!”
“Sire?!” Coran gasped, looking shock.
“Our spy has done his job well. He was present when the Drules presented themselves before King Lezard and his queen. Merla herself spoke with them, telling them stories, lying that I intend to invade their kingdoms. That I am intent on making war in some mad bid to claim riches and powers for myself.” Alfor made a scoffing sound then. “I’m not sure what exactly is going on, why the Drules would do this after going to such lengths to be our friends, but this can’t be allowed to continue.”
“Yes, your highness.” Coran nodded. “I shall fetch the captain immediately.”
“Do that.” Alfor said, nodding at the bowing Coran. He didn’t even wait for the advisor to leave the room, pulling out fresh parchment. He wet his quill with ink, and immediately began writing a letter to King Lezard. He got straight to the point, telling them of his concerns about the Drules, and that he in no way had world conquest on the mind. He reluctantly mentioned his missing daughter, and asked if there was any truth to the rumors that the Drule transport had crashed down on Ranseyan territory.
When he finished writing the letter, he sealed it with wax, stamping into it his official crest. He then set about writing to the Queen of Altexia, his words echoing the things he had written to Lezard. He was just finishing up sealing the second letter, when Coran returned with the captain, the red haired soldier looking far older than he should for his age.
“You asked to see me, your highness?” Erikson inquired, and Alfor nodded.
“Yes. Coran, have these delivered to our fastest carrier pigeons.” Coran took the letters from Alfor, the King explaining which one was to go to Ranseya, and which to Altrexia. He then focused his eyes on Erikson, and allowed a small mockery of a smile. “I think our visitors have underestimated us.”
Alfor nodded. “They must think we are complete incompetents, and far too trusting. Hmph. No doubt they never bothered to learn much about our own culture, vastly underestimating our way of communicating.” He glanced down at the letter in his hand, knowing it had taken two days, and several birds to cover the distance between kingdoms. The message had almost arrived too late, Alfor trying not to shudder as he wondered what would have happened if Ranseyan soldiers had found Captain Erikson on their land.
“The Drules mean to incite war between us and the other two kingdoms.” Erikson gasped, Alfor turning grim. “We won’t let them. If anything, we will concentrate our efforts on fighting them.”
“But sire!” Erikson was protesting. “They are capable of anything, they shoot fire that destroys within an instant. How can we hope to fight them?”
“I don’t know.” Alfor admitted. “But I refuse to be a pawn in their games. I refuse to go to war with the other kingdoms. Whatever they’re planning, we’ll stop them. Stop them or die trying.”
“I fear we may do the latter…” muttered Erikson. He sighed then, looking worried. “And where does the princess fit in to all this?”
“Most likely they took her to lead me into their trap.” Alfor frowned. “They wanted me to send soldiers into Ranseya looking for her. Soldiers that the Ranseyans would be expecting, assuming you and your men were the first wave of an invasion force. Can you imagine what would have happened if fighting broke out?”
“It really would have been war between our kingdoms.” Erikson had paled. He may be a soldier, but he had long enjoyed the relative peace of Alfor’s rule.
“War is a serious crime Captain.” Alfor leaned back in his seat. “One we cannot afford to take lightly. Go. Tell your men you are leaving. But not for Ranseya.”
“We have to make it look like you have gone to Ranseya.” explained Alfor. “To fool the Drules into thinking their plot is working. Go, take your men and enjoy a few
day’s rests in a tavern somewhere.”
“If these…these Drules are as treacherous as to try and start a war, I do not want to leave your side!” exclaimed Erikson.
“I appreciate that.” Alfor smiled reassurance at him. “But I am not sending all my men away. I will be well protected, and so will the kingdom. We’ll have a few days of peace before the Drules realize war is not happening…”
“And then what?” Erikson asked. “You’ll fight them?”
“I don’t like this sire.” Erikson admitted. “It leaves a bad feeling in my stomach.”
“It does in mine too!” Alfor told him.
“They’re not really Gods, are they?” He was surprised by the captain’s question, Alfor staring at him. “They couldn’t be. Gods wouldn’t try to start wars, wouldn’t want people killing each other.”
“So what are they then…” Alfor wondered out loud.
“Demons.” It was a simple answer, but Erikson’s voice held all his frightened certainty. Alfor didn’t believe the Drules were demons, any more than he had believed they were Gods.
“We may never know for sure.” Alfor sighed. “Go, take your men, tell them what they need to know. But make sure they don’t spread stories. The last thing we need is for the citizens to panic.”
“Yes, King Alfor.” Erikson bowed smartly, then exited the room, Alfor turning to glance out his window. He spied a black carrier pigeon speeding past, letter fastened to it’s collar. He found himself smiling at the bird, wishing for it’s safety, and above all, it’s speed in delivering the message. He hoped the recipients would believe his words, Alfor having a feeling if they were going to fight off the Drules, they’d have to present a unified front.