Alfor hadn’t trusted Lotor and the other Drules enough to agree to set foot on board one of their ships. Instead Lotor had had to make arrangements for the Drules to come down to the castle courtyard, and now they waited for the first of them to disembark. Alfor’s guards had thinned out the crowd of curious onlooker, most of the servants, nobles and others who made the castle their home, being forced back inside.
But he could feel their eyes on him, the people crowding the second floor windows, peering out from behind curtains. They didn’t know what was going on, but they were eager to bear witness to what they hoped might be a prime piece of gossip. Lotor feared their reactions, nerves prickling as he waited for Cossack to lead the Drules off the ship. His own men were spread about the courtyard, the prettier Drules who so appealed to the humans with their handsome looks. They were tense, wary of what would happen, though there expressions did not betray their worry.
Lotor stood with Alfor and Allura under the shade of a tree, and it was all the King could do to not pace from his anxiety. When the sound of footsteps echoing on the metal ramp was heard, Lotor’s tension mounted, the King giving a side long glance at Alfor. Allura’s father was looking towards the ramp, expression serious as he waited to see the people Lotor had tried to keep hidden.
There was a cry heard, a woman admonishing her son in the Drule’s native tongue. That young boy had broken away from her, rushing down the ramp in his eagerness to set foot for the first time on Arus’ land. The child was in the lead, having managed to evade Cossack’s grab for him, the bald headed boy looking around with an expectant look in his eyes.
Lotor looked at the boy, noting the prominent head ridges that were starting to grow down the center of the child’s head. They would grow several inches in height, and sharpen to a point when he reached adulthood. His dark green skin bore scaled patterns, and markings that looked like someone had dipped their fingers in oil, and used them to paint the lines on the child’s face. His eyes were ringed with coal black, making the slit in the center of silver all the more noticeable. Other marks colored his skin, and his nose was too large for his face.
To the Drules he was a normal representative of one half their race, he might even be considered cute to the more reptilian like beast men. Lotor harbored no illusions that the child’s appearance would appear freakish to the humans, gasps and a woman screaming following the child’s passage into the sunlight. The boy himself seemed to jump back at the noise, lifting a clawed hand to shield his eyes from the bright sun.
Squinting, the boy looked around, relaxing to see the Drule soldiers spread about the courtyard. And then he smiled, a fang toothed grin as he spied a red ball laying abandoned on the cobblestones. He made a move to go to the ball, and suddenly Cossack was there, the commander scooping the child up into his arms with a chiding hiss.
Cossack himself wasn’t exactly pretty, though next to the child Lotor was sure the humans found him a better sight to see. The commander had smiled at the child, to show he wasn’t mad, the boy squirming in his arms. A woman’s voice sounded, the boy’s mother rushing down the ramp, looking chagrined that she had lost control of her son. She bore a strong resemblance to the boy, and her head ridges had grown into their full height. Several were pierced, bearing silver and gold hoops on the ridges, and she wore larger hoops in her ears.
Her outfit was in two pieces, form fitting, long sleeve top that left her pierced midriff bared. A long, wrap around skirt was across her hips, her feet wearing sandals that laced up to her knees. Her skin was a lighter shade of green, some genetic fluke had made her son come out so darker than she. “Adrios!” She was saying, hands on her hips as she gazed at her son in Cossack’s arms. “I told you to stay close to me!”
“I’m sorry momma…” The boy hardly seemed apologetic, eyes shining with excitement. “I just wanted to see the new world!”
“It’s all right.” Cossack said, moving to hand the child over this his mother. “It’s just a boy’s excitement.” The woman’s lips pursed together, she seemed uneasy, and Lotor couldn’t blame her. With the Drules sharp hearing, she had surely heard the reaction of the humans to her son’s appearance.
Adrios was squirming about in his mother’s arms, wanting to be put down. He was looking in the direction of the ball, seeming fascinated by the simple toy. He didn’t notice that they were being approached, the boy’s predator instincts not yet honed to the point he could focus on more than one thing at a time. But Cossack and the woman stiffened, their tension visible as King Alfor approached them.
Lotor wasn’t sure what the King intended to do, but he and Allura hurried after him. Adrios fussed about in his mother’s arms, twisting about so that his gaze landed on Alfor. The boy’s eyes went huge, the child realizing for the first time there was others in the courtyard, people who did not resemble him or his mother. His mouth fell open, the boy blinking owlishly at the King.
“Momma, what is that?” He asked, and pointed, Lotor grateful the child was speaking in Drule.
“That’s a human.” His mother explained, and the boy repeated the word.
“Human….” A frown then, the boy cocking his head to the side. “Why does he look so funny?”
“Shh Adrios, that’s being rude!” admonished the woman, giving Lotor an apologetic look.
“King Alfor, allow me to introduce you to Cossack, the commander of my armies.” Lotor said, gesturing toward the Drule. Alfor nodded his head at Cossack, but his attention was all for the woman and her child.
“And who is this?” Alfor asked, and Lotor struggled to remember the woman’s name.
“Astatavina. She works as a seamstress aboard the epiphany. This is her son, Adrios.” Lotor added, watching as the child and King both gave each other considering looks. They both looked so curious, intent on the study of each other’s features. Adrios’ brow furrowed, something about Alfor puzzled him.
“He has hair on his face!” The boy finally said, staring at Alfor’s mustache. It was something Lotor had not thought much about, but then he realized that neither of the two races of Drule had any facial hair. It was just one more thing that set them apart from the humans, and Adrios seemed fascinated by it.
“What is the child saying?” Alfor asked, and Lotor hesitated.
“He’s…He’s interested in your mustache.”
“My mustache?” Alfor allowed his mask of calm to slip, showing his surprise. He then glanced at the Drule soldiers in the courtyard, looking over their faces carefully. “I’ve never seen a Drule with a beard before….”
“And you’re likely to go on not seeing one with that particular feature.” Lotor said.
“Hmmm.” Alfor turned his attention back to the boy and his mother, the woman looking like she didn’t know if she should attempt a curtesy while retaining her hold on her son. “So these are the demons that frightened my people at the temple?”
“No demons!” Lotor was quick to retort. “They’re just people like you and I, living their lives and trying to survive.” He didn’t know what to make of Alfor’s reactions, the man managing to blank out his expressions when dealing with the Drules.
“They are an abomination!” A voice cried out, and Lotor whirled to identify who had spoken such awful words. There was an old woman in one of the second floor windows, her gnarled fingers clinging to the drapery. A young man stood behind her, hands on her shoulders as though trying to keep her from falling out the window as she leaned forward to glare at the Drules.
Lotor wasn’t the only one who had turned, many of the soldiers were looking up at the window, frowns on their faces as they grumbled. The old woman had a fanatical look on her face, lips sneering as she glared.
“King Alfor, do not let these monsters walk among us!” The old woman was shouting now. “They should not be suffered to live, they should be killed on sight!”
“Calm down Maltilda.” ordered Alfor. “I’ve yet to see them do anything monstrous.”
“That they live is bad enough!” Maltilda retorted. The man tried to draw her back into the room, and she screeched in outrage. “No! I will not be silenced! There’s demons among us, they no longer try to hide their true appearances.”
Her hostile shouting had an effect on Adrios, the boy starting to cry. He didn’t understand why the woman was screaming, or why she was so mad. “Momma.” He tearfully cried, even as Aflor signaled for them to removed Maltilda from the window. She screamed up a fuss, clinging to the drapes so that they were torn off their rods when she was dragged away.
Lotor wondered how much damage her words had done, the other humans who watched appeared disgruntled, and he could hear them muttering things under their breath. That conversation seemed to increase when more Drules came down the ramp, standing some distance away from Alfor. The King gave them a passing glance before focusing his attention on Atrios and his mother.
“Are you a good woman, Astatavina?” He asked, and she blinked, surprised.
“I believe I am sire.” She answered in halting Arusian.
“And what would your estimation be of the other Drules?”
She gave his question some thought, considering her words before speaking. “I think they are not so different from you humans. Some are good, and some are bad.”
“But do you have more rotten apples than good among your people?” Alfor questioned, and Astatavina blinked.
“I believe we have more good than bad. There are just some who has been misguided, their actions thoughtless and leaving them in the position to be taken advantage of.” She looked nervously at Lotor, as though fearing to say any thing more.
“Speak freely Astatavina.” Lotor told her. “No one will fault you for the truth.”
“Indeed, the truth is what we want!” piped in Allura, and the woman nodded.
“Then yes, many of the Drules are good people. Kind people. But we can only be pushed so far, and we’ve been dealt so many disappointments.” She sighed then. “We were very excited for this new world…excited and eager to start preparations for our people to live here. But then the orders came, one half of our people being forced to stay on the ships. We were denied the chance to get to know this world and it’s people, not allowed to prove ourselves. We were told time and time again we would be judged harshly based on our looks, that we would inspire fear in your people. We’ve waiting so long your highness…” She looked at Lotor now. “We’ve waited and waited for you to introduce us to the humans. For you to smooth the way for us to coexist in peace.”
“I..I am sorry to have kept you waiting.” Lotor apologized.
Astatavina shook her head, hugging her son Atrios closer to her chest. “Some of us grew tired of waiting I’m afraid. Racial tensions grew within the ship, stirring old hate. It hasn’t been that long since we were a divided people, two races fighting over one world. Old grudges aren’t easily forgotten, nor is old pain. It left us open to the plots of others, and I believe many of us are victims of the Lady Merla and Lord Yurak. Your highness…” She looked as sad as she looked pleading, meeting Alfor’s gaze. “Many of us want nothing more than a chance to make a home here, to live peacefully among your people. There is more of us willing to try to work things out, then there are ones who would side against you.”
Lotor realized he was holding his breath, trying not to stare at Alfor. But he was struggling with his hope, praying Astatavina’s words would have an effect on the man, that she would be the start that bridged their two peoples together.
“I thank you for your honesty my lady.” Alfor said, giving a slight bow to Astatavina. She looked shocked at his show of respect, eyes blinking rapidly to hide her overwhelming emotions. “You have been through much, your grief is apparent in your words.” He turned to look at Lotor now, and a tsk escaped him. “You haven’t done your people justice…or mine.”
“Father?!” Allura sounded shocked at that, but Lotor shushed her.
“I know.” Lotor sighed. “I let my fears and paranoia allow me to justify mistreating one half of my people.” The muttered conversations of the humans had grown quiet, they were all focused on what was being said between the two Kings.
“There will always be some fear and prejudices…we cannot stamp that out entirely.” Alfor began, and reached out to touch Atrios’ head ridges. The boy stilled, then let out an excited chirp, seeming to like Alfor’s touch. Lotor heard the gasps of the humans, they seemed shocked that their King had willingly touched the boy. “However, there will also be those willing to try to better things for all involved.” He gave one last brush of the head ridges, than raised his voice, addressing his spying people. “I would invite these people to come among you, and allow you to see that there is nothing demonic about them. And they you!”
There was some grumbles, to which Alfor quickly put a stop to. “If anyone has a problem with this, then I advise you to leave the castle now. I will not tolerate hatred in my home. Not towards anyone, be they human or Drule.” He turned back to Astatavina and offered his arm to the woman, the Drule female looking surprised. “My lady, if you and your people would do me the honor of joining me for dinner…?”
“Of….of course!” She said, shifting her son so that he rested on her hip, leaving her one hand free to take Alfor’s arm. Lotor could only stand there next to Allura, shock on both their faces as Alfor led mother and child past them. After a moment’s hesitation, the other Drules followed, and soon more and more came off the ships, both races eager to be included in this meeting.
Lotor was left in the courtyard with Allura, his expression bemused as he looked at her. She looked like he felt, confused but happy over what was happening. “That went better than I dared hope for.” He admitted to her, and she grinned.
“I told you my father is a very understanding man!”
“I’m sorry I didn’t believe you sooner about that.” Lotor said, then sighed. “Do you think it will work out with the rest of your people? Or will they be like Maltilda?”
“Oh, I’m sure there will be a few who stubbornly insist on spouting hatred and nonsense. However! Most are so eager to cater to my father, and gain his approval, that they will do as he ask, and try to get to know your people.” Her eyes twinkled, Allura so full of hope in the moment. “Everything is working out, we just needed to have faith.”
“Faith…” repeated Lotor, wondering if there really was some Gods out there that watched over their dealings. It certainly felt like a small miracle had occurred this day, and if Lotor was a religious man, he’d be off in a temple somewhere, offering thanks.
“You frowned.” Allura noted, and Lotor realized he had, the King’s thought of temples reminding him of Pelphine, and what had happened there. What continued to happen, and what might take place in the future.
“Sorry….Just wondering where Merla is.”
“Well, we’ll worry about her later.” Allura decided, and took hold of his arm. “Tonight is something to celebrate, our people starting what looks to be a promising relationship.” She was tugging him towards the castle, and Lotor moved willingly enough with her. But he couldn’t stop from worrying, Lotor hoping that Merla, along with Yurak and Mogor, didn’t do something to jeopardize the tentative progress that had been made this day.