Duty 26

The space port was one of the largest on the planet, it’s size befitting what was the capital city of Kirentya. The sprawling land of concrete extended for miles in every direction, ships from all manner of worlds standing rested on the ground. She saw makes and models of over a hundred different ships, many of them being civilian class. That didn’t mean there wasn’t military issued ships as well. Mara could make out several command ships, amidst the carriers that held a multitude of small fighter craft. There were large ships known as Destroyers, whose sole role was to attack. Just as there were Defenders, who were generally the last line of defense for a planet.

Nearly all the ships present, from the military craft, to the pleasure yachts, all bore the crest of the Alliance. They might be from different worlds, might each serve a different purpose, but all were from planets that belonged to the Alliance. Mara knew somewhere in the space port, there were ships without the Alliance crest. Ships that belonged to the planets that had hoped to be admitted to the Alliance. They weren’t going to get their wish fulfilled. Even if the Drule hadn’t come to Kirentya, the Alliance would have still refused them.

Mara wasn’t surprised. The Alliance and Garrison were like any other powerful organization. Ruled by money, they were greedy for more of it. It was a sad reality, but money really did keep the universe going. It paid for ships, for soldiers, for the technology used to improve worlds. Without it, things didn’t happen. Just as some worlds pushed to conquer others in order to increase their riches, the Alliance needed money to pay for the resources used to defend it’s members.

Mara understood this well, though the princess she was impersonating did not. Princess Allura of Arus believed in helping people, in giving of oneself, even if that meant giving what you no longer had to give up. Kirentya had surely been a frustrating experience for the princess, Allura being exposed first hand to how callously the Alliance could turn their back on those in need. Mara didn’t think of the Alliance as evil, just practical, and wondered how their actions fit in Allura’s world of black and white.

One of the things Mara had quickly learned was that Allura thought in absolutes. That middle ground and gray areas didn’t exist. She wondered how Allura handled being around people like General Grants, a man Mara couldn’t categorize as wholly evil or wholly good.

Allura surrounded herself with good people. Mara could reluctantly admit that Nanny was a good person, even if the woman was racist when it came to the Drules. It was a sad fact that many of the people around Allura had similar viewpoints, never believing, never even considering that not all the Drule were bad. Not all were as blatant in their dislike of the Drule. Some actually managed to keep from making many snide comments, though every time they did say something, it usually betrayed how ignorant they were about the Drule.

Being ignorant about the Drule’s situation on Doom was nothing new. Mara just wished she could speak up on her people’s suffering. But Allura of Arus wouldn’t know. It would be suspect if she started advocating for the Drules with no known reason for it. It was a shame, Mara knowing as Allura she could have stood a real chance to change people’s mind about the Drules.

Sometimes Mara wondered if she couldn’t somehow force a discovery about the true nature of the situation on Doom. But she didn’t know how to accomplish that without risking her cover. Right now, she had to content herself with what she COULD do, Mara glad she had been able to arrange for the handing over of the dead Drule to representatives of the Doom Empire.

It was why she had come to the space port this day. And not just Mara! Keith and the Voltron Force were present, as well as the despised General Grants. They weren’t foolish enough to present such a small group to the Drules. If anything the space port was crawling with soldiers, both Galaxy Garrison trained, and that of the Kirentya military.

Of course, not all of the soldiers had been called to the space port. A small contingent remained behind at the embassy, where the world leaders anxiously waited for the Drule armada to leave this planet. Those world leaders each had their own private escort of guards they had brought with them from their home worlds. Mara thought it was incredibly foolish to have the world leaders all in the same building. Why if something went wrong during this meeting, the Drules could attack the embassy. With a few careful shots, they could bring down the entire building on the visiting world leaders.

Of course General Grants thought he knew what he was doing. He thought the world leaders would be safe inside the embassy. Mara thought him a fool, and a lucky one at that. Haggar didn’t want any trouble. The witch simply wanted to gather the dead, and take care of the fake Lotor’s body. But if Zarkon had been present on this planet, Mara was pretty damn sure there would have been no peaceful resolution to the situation.

Mara was almost amused, thinking to herself how the people here didn’t even realize how grateful they should be to have Haggar around. With Lotor considered dead, the witch had taken command of the armada. It was Haggar who had agreed to the conditions Mara as Allura had negotiated.

The handing over of the dead Drules would not only ease Mara’s worry that Lotor’s body would be discovered as a fake, but offered a rare opportunity. One that would perhaps show the rest of the Galaxy a softer side to the Drule. She didn’t think to hope they would be impressed that the Drule cared enough about their dead to want to honor them with proper burial rights, but maybe, just maybe they would like how peacefully the Drules had negotiated for those bodies.

The space port had been closed to all civilians. It wasn’t as inconvenient as it might have been, considering that not many would willingly come near this place now that they knew the Drule were set to arrive. There were no curious onlookers at the fence, no one trying to sneak past the barricades. Even the news crews that had been allowed in to film this moment, hadn’t wanted to be here. The fear of the Drules overrode any desire to get a good sound bite.

The reporters weren’t even trying to badger the Voltron Force. The four male pilots were amused, liking the break from what was normally an invasive barrage of questions. Mara herself was relieved, not wanting to be questioned anymore than the others had wanted. Her relief showed, but it was apparently something normal of Allura, Keith smiling at Mara.

“Enjoy it while you can princess.” He said in a friendly, almost teasing tone. “Once the Drule are gone, and everyone’s fear calms down, those reporters will be back to hounding you.”

“Maybe not.” Pidge, the youngest pilot said. He adjusted his wire frame glasses, a half smile on his face. “With Prince Lotor dead, your relationship with him won’t be such a hot topic of interest.”

“WHAT relationship?!” demanded Lance, the brown haired pilot of red lion scowling. “He was a deluded stalker who never gave Allura a minute of peace.”

“Well, yes…” Pidge agreed. “But his obsession with Princess Allura was famous. It added a bit of spice to what would otherwise be just another story of the Drule trying to invade another world.”

“It’s something that is repeated on any dozen of worlds at any minute.” Hunk, the pilot who had the bulkiest of bodies among the four men said. “It’s a very real situation, but it doesn’t mean it hasn’t becoming a rather boring story to keep covering. I can see what Pidge is trying to say. Lotor’s interest in Allura gave the reporters a new angle from to approach the war. They never knew what he was going to try next….It made it exciting.”

“We could have all done without that kind of excitement.” Keith pointed out, and the others nodded in agreement.

“It’s over now.” Mara decided to speak. “Lotor is dead, and soon the reporters won’t even remember that part of the past. They’ll move on, hunting out new angles, new stories to report on.”

“But first they’ll hound you for a sound bite.” Lance said with a grimace. “They’ll be hoping for some kind of emotional breakdown from you, princess. Sorrow or relief that he’s gone.”

“They won’t get any.” Mara stated firmly. “I’m not about to boost their ratings with a reaction over Lotor, or to their harassment.”

“That’s the way to go princess!” Pidge grinned at her, looking proud of the strength she had displayed. “You won’t waste any emotions over a jerk like that Lotor was!”

Mara somehow managed not to react to Pidge calling Lotor a jerk. Allura simply wouldn’t have cared, though Mara hoped that once the princess got to know the real Lotor, her opinions and feelings would change. She didn’t know what was going on over on planet Simestia, Mara left only to wonder and hope that things would improve. Not just for Lotor’s relationship with Allura, but that he would heal from Zarkon’s abuse.

They all needed to heal to some extent, though some people’s scars ran deeper than others. All the Drules had been touched in some way by Zarkon’s madness. Even Haggar had suffered at his hands on occasion. Mara wondered if she and Haggar were missing out by not going to planet Simestia. At least Haggar could sometimes talk to Ryder, while Mara had to avoid all contact with the Drules.

Of course there was an allowance for an emergency. Mara had memorized the numbers to private lines that would be answered only by Haggar and Ryder. But she wasn’t supposed to use them, unless a situation happened. Just as Haggar and Ryder were under strict orders not to blow Mara’s cover, by contacting her. Radio silence was so far being maintained, and the only problem was about to be resolved when Haggar left with the bodies.

Already they could see the Drule ships in the distance. They still had some ways to descend, but there was no mistaking that beetle black metal of a Drule military vessel. There was only three, but two were large behemoth sized ships which flanked the command ship of the armada. Haggar would be on that command ship, protected by it’s strong shielding and guarded by hundreds of soldiers.

“It won’t be long now.” Keith had followed Mara’s upturned gaze to look at the descending ships. “This will be all over soon.”

“Maybe.” Hunk said doubtfully. “It still remains to be seen if the Drule will honor their end of the agreement.”

“We have to hope that they will.” Mara said, unable to betray how confidant she was on the outcome of what was about to happen. “We have to hope they’ll be honorable, and respect that we allowed them to take their dead back to Doom.”

“Since when have the Drule EVER been honorable?” Lance demanded.

Mara had to struggle not to turn on him with anger, instead managing a calm voice. “There’s always a first time for everything.”

“I won’t hold my breath on that.” Lance told her.

“Do you want them to try something?” Mara couldn’t help but ask, voice tight as she tried to control her emotions.

“Hell no!” He exclaimed. “But I–we would be a fool to go into this trusting them. You know that, Allura. The Drule don’t change. They’re still the sneaky, lying, underhanded evil that plagues this galaxy.”

She turned away before her glare gave her away. She wasn’t surprised by Lance’s attitude, the pilot of red lion not saying anything she hadn’t heard before. So many people believed as he did, so many people didn’t bother to find out what the Drule was like beyond the soldiers who operated under Zarkon’s orders. It didn’t make it any easier to hear though.

Nor could she keep entirely quiet, Mara trying for a question that wouldn’t entirely betray her cover. “Can a whole race of people truly be all evil….?”

“What are you getting at Allura?” Keith asked, while Lance made a scoffing sound. Keith gave him a dirty look, as though trying to tell red lion’s pilot to be quiet.

“I don’t know Keith.” Mara sighed. “It’s just…” She shrugged. “With all that’s happened recently…the Drule being so concerned to recover their dead. It makes me wonder…”

“Wonder what!?” Lance exclaimed in disbelief. “They don’t care about their dead. It’s just glorified posturing, a power struggle between them and the Alliance. They’d use the dead as an excuse to increase hostilities, to blow this world apart.”

“Then why haven’t they done it already?!” Mara asked. “Why go through all this trouble to pretend to retrieve the bodies?”

“They surely got something planned.” Lance insisted. “And that’s why we’re here. To make sure whatever it is, doesn’t succeed.”

“The odds are definitely in favor of Lance being right.” Pidge almost sounded apologetic. “Given the Drule’s track record in the past, there’s only roughly seven percent chance something won’t happen today.”

“The numbers are bad, I know.” Mara said. “But I can’t not take a chance that today’s the day that they prove us wrong.”

“Well, that’s why you got us here to back you up.” Hunk smiled. “You can keep believing, hoping that it’ll all work out. But in case it doesn’t, we’re here to help you protect this world from the Drule. But really guys, I want to believe the princess’ hope will come true.”

“Hunk.” Her voice was surprised, and the big man turned sheepish.

“I get tired of the fighting, you know.” He told her. “It’d be nice if there was some good Drules, some Drules who wouldn’t back stab and betray at the first chance they get.”

“Maybe there are Hunk, maybe there are.” Her smile was warm as she looked at the pilot.

“Well, we’re not going to meet them today.” Keith said. “It’s nothing but soldiers on those ships.”

“And Haggar!” Pidge exclaimed. “Don’t forget that tricky old witch!”

“I don’t think any of us could do that!” Hunk laughed, but it sounded nervous. “With Lotor gone, she’s the worse we have to face.”

“It’s better than dealing with Zarkon.” Keith pointed out. “I don’t believe he would have been as agreeable to the princess’ negotiations as the witch has been.”

Mara knew Keith was right about that. Just as she wondered how much trouble Haggar would get into, when Zarkon found out that not only had the witch agreed to remove the barricade, she had kept her promise on that. The witch was putting herself into danger, all to get back the bodies of the dead Drules so that she could personally see to the disposal of the fake Lotor.

If left in Zarkon’s hands, he would have regained the bodies by force. He never would have removed the barricade, if anything once the bodies were in the Drule’s possession, he would have opened fire on the planet. With so many key members of the Alliance present, in addition to so many world leaders, Zarkon wouldn’t have wanted to lose out on the opportunity to kill them all.

A soldier was approaching their group. He was dressed in shades of gray, with black slacks underneath his tunic. There were no medals on his uniform, in fact the only marking on the fabric was a smaller version of the Alliance crest. This was a Galaxy Garrison trained soldier. And by the fresh faced look of him, he was a new recruit, just barely out of training.

He hurried the way to them, but wasn’t out of breath as he bowed to Mara. “Princess Allura, Captain Keith…I have a message from General Grants.”

“Yes, what is it?” Mara asked, gesturing for the soldier to straighten.

“The Drules are being given permission to land.” The young soldier informed them. “General Grants wants you, the Voltron Force, to be as close to the lions as we can get away with.”

“So how close is close?” demanded Lance.

“The Drules have negotiated that no one is to be within 250 yards of the lions.” Explained the soldier. Mara couldn’t hide her surprise, for at the Voltron Force’s current position, they were almost five hundred yards away.

“That close?” She asked, wanting to be certain. The soldier nodded.

“Well, we better hurry then.” Keith decided. “Those ships are going to land any minute now!”

They didn’t stick around to talk any further to the soldier, the Voltron Force breaking into a run. They had to weave through the crowd, their colorful spandex making them stand out in a sea of grays, blacks, and dark green. The soldiers they passed were all serious faced, weapons holstered at their sides. These men and women were tense, all watching the descending ships with eagle eye sharpness. Of course their weapons wouldn’t be enough to bring down the ships, not with the kind of shielding Doom could afford. But once the ships were landed, and the Drules were out on the ground, then the weapons would be of use.

Mara could only hope that no one would get trigger happy at the sight of the Drules. Even if it was a misunderstanding, the Drules would leap to defend themselves. Another bloodbath could occur. And neither Mara nor Haggar wanted that to happen!

Mara was also surprised that Haggar had allowed the Voltron Force to be positioned so close to the lions. She didn’t understand what had changed the witch’s mind, but Mara hoped this would allow the Garrison and Kirentya soldiers to be more at ease.

The lions were hard to miss, even at this distance. Mara had yet to actually be inside one, having only been able to look at Blue lion as an outsider. She was both nervous and looking forward to the time she would be inside it’s cockpit, though Mara desperately hoped her first flight would not be an actual battle with Doom. Not when she needed to familiarize herself with it’s flight programs and weapons system.

A few more minutes would pass uneventfully, and then the Drule ships touched then. Tension on the field seemed to visibly increase, weapons being drawn as a ramp was lowered from the command ship. Haggar did not immediately appear. Instead a group of soldiers began to make their way down the ramp. They were also armed, weapons drawn but not aimed at anyone. They would spread out in front of the ship, facing the soldiers as General Grants and his escort began walking towards them.

Haggar would walk down the ramp at a slow pace, using her staff as a cane. Surrounding her was a team of elite soldiers, something equivalent to the Space Seals Garrison sometimes employed. The Space Seals weren’t present for this meeting, weren’t even in this part of the galaxy. Even if they had been summoned to Kirentya, they wouldn’t have been able to get past the Drule barricade.

Haggar and Grants met in a small space between the soldiers and the landed Drule ships. They didn’t shake hands, Grants fighting back a scowl as he looked at Haggar. The witch was frowning, and slowly her hand raised. Red lights instantly covered her form, half the gathered soldiers training their weapons on her in a panicked reaction. Mara herself grew tense, muttering to herself.

“She’s not going to use magic you fools!”

Indeed she wasn’t, instead using her hand to angrily gesture at the Voltron Force. They were too far away to hear until Pidge turned on a communicator that was tuned to one of the several recorders that was placed in the area. Immediately, Haggar’s angry screeching was heard.

“Why is the Voltron Force so close to the lions?!” She was demanding. “That was not part of the agreement!”

“Oh, I’m sorry…” Grants did not sound sorry, at all. In fact his tone was mocking and insolent. “I guess there was a misunderstanding about numbers. You Drules and your accents are so difficult to understand.”

Mara wanted to growl, realizing Grants had tricked the Voltron Force into moving closer to the lions. He was purposefully trying to upset the Drule, to agitate Haggar into attacking. The witch wouldn’t be so easy to be played, her scowl remaining as she glared at General Grants.

“Maybe you should get your ears checked!” Haggar snapped at him. “Are we going to do this, or aren’t we?”

“You will pull back your ships?” Grants demanded.

“Were you not present for the agreement I worked out with Princess Allura?” Haggar seemed unfazed by the fact all those laser beams were trained on her.

“You Drule are not known for keeping your word.” Grants retorted. “I want no misunderstandings. You’re getting your dead back only because you agreed to pull out of Kirentya.”

“You’re fortunate it is not our King who is here before you.” Haggar hissed. “King Zarkon would not tolerate your attempts at delaying the handing over of our dead.” Her look turned suspicious. “Are the bodies even here?”

“Of course they are.”

“Then let me see them.” Haggar ordered. Grants scowled, but began gesturing and relaying orders. A large transport cruiser would be driven forward, it’s back opening up to reveal soldiers who stood guard over the coffins. Haggar would turn, and bark out her own orders. More soldiers would come down the ramp, some of them carrying scanning devices. Together the Drules and the humans would work to unload the transport cruiser, each coffin being set down before the ship where the scanning devices would come into play.

“You understand, don’t you?” Haggar was speaking sharply, exaggerating the accent Grants had complained about. “We have to make sure there’s no nasty surprised hidden in these coffins.”

Grants took offense to that. “We wouldn’t trick you! We are not Drules! We wouldn’t hide bombs in there!”

“Pardon me if I don’t take you at your word.” Haggar retorted. She walked away from Grants, gesturing for a coffin to be open. It was the one that was supposed to contain the fake Lotor’s body. Haggar stared down into the coffin, eyes critical. Mara was too far away to see what Haggar saw, but the witch nodded. “Good. We feared you would defile our prince’s body.”

“We have respect for the dead!” Grants angrily shouted. “Even that of the Drule.”

“Clearly you do not, or you would have given up these bodies days ago.” Haggar retorted. “It’s pure sacrilege to have allowed these dead to go so long without proper rites being administered to them. I can only pray that their souls haven’t suffered needlessly over this.”

“It doesn’t matter how many rites you perform, how many prayers are said over their bodies. All Drule are damned.” Grants smirked, acting like he was speaking an absolute truth.

“How dare you!” Haggar had whirled around with a hiss, and more lights were shining on her body now. “You know little about the Drule beyond the wars you fight in. Do not presume to act like you are some expert. Not on this, our customs, or our very civilization.” Mara was inwardly cheering at Haggar’s words, even as she knew they would have no effect on a man as hateful as General Grants. “I invite you to someday study your opponents more closely. You and your Alliance might be surprised at what you discover.”

“Nothing good.” He retorted. “There’s nothing good about the Drule.”

“You can say that again.” Mara heard Lance mutter, as Pidge and Hunk made shushing sounds.

“So long as you think that way, we will forever be enemies.” Haggar told him. That seemed to be the end of their talking, Haggar turning her back on Grants to watch the Drule soldiers labor with the coffins. Weapons would be trained on them all, though most of those laser’s lights were on Haggar. She didn’t care, walking around, talking in the Drule language to the soldiers who worked under her.

It would take time for all the bodies to be checked and then carried up onto the ramps of the two ships besides the command ship. The soldiers were tense the entire time, unable to relax so long as the witch was on the ground. A good three hours would pass like this, and as the last body was being carried up a ramp, Grants called out to Haggar.

“Remember your promise.”

Haggar looked at him, but otherwise had no reaction. The lights stayed trained on her, even once her back was to the crowd, the witch making her slow climb up the ramp. The Drules soldiers would follow, the elite team guarding their backs. Mara didn’t want to wait for the Drule ships to take off, the girl already abandoning her post to march determinedly towards Grants.

“Allura!” It was Keith, who was moving to follow her. “What are you doing?! It’s still not safe! The Drules might still attack!”

“Might?” Came Lance’s doubting voice. “Hell, they got what they wanted. Nothing’s stopping them from attacking now! I say we go for the lions!”

“Keep your positions as is!” Mara snapped. “No one gets into a lion unless the Drule open fire first.”

“But…?!”

“You heard the princess!” Keith exclaimed.

“But…princess…what are you going to be doing?!” Pidge’s uncertain sounding voice asked.

“I’m going to talk to Grants.” She told them. “The General has a lot to answer for.”

“I’m coming with you.” Keith decided.

“Oh great.” Complained Lance. “So instead of five lions, we’re down to three?”

“Three lions will be more than enough to deal with three Drule war ships.” Hunk pointed out. Mara didn’t say to listen to any more of their talk, walking so fast she was almost running. Keith’s longer legs easily kept up with her, and she could feel his concerned gaze on her.

“Princess, I know you’re upset that he tricked us, but you have to keep a cool head about it.” Advised Keith. “Don’t do anything you’ll regret.”

Mara had to bite her lip, almost saying she’d regret more the things she couldn’t say and do. Right now she wanted to punch Grants, but knew that wouldn’t be Allura like behavior. She couldn’t even get that loud, having to be the diplomatic princess who did not burn bridges. She had to keep things from escalating out of control, but Mara also thought Allura wouldn’t have allowed them to be tricked so.

Grants had known what he was trying to do. Of that there was no doubt in Mara’s mind. He had hoped that the Drules would see the Voltron Force so close to the lions, and would react by attacking. They might have done just that, if not for Haggar keeping everyone under her control. Grants had to be disappointed his little scheme hadn’t worked. Just as he had to be mad that Haggar had behaved herself, refusing to react to his comments with anything other than snide remarks of her own.

“I won’t Keith.” Mara promised him. Soldiers were moving out of the way, giving them a clear path to Grants. The General saw them coming, the man having not lost his scowl. “But he has to know he can’t get away with tricking us.”

“Yeah, he can’t.” Agreed Keith. He was right with her as she marched up to Grants, the human looking an angry red as he opened his mouth to shout at them.

“Just what do you think you’re doing, abandoning your positions?! The Drule could open fire at any moment!”

“Three lions are more than capable of handling such a small amount of ships.” Mara retorted. “But it’s not going to be an issue.”

“How can you say that?!” Grants demanded. “They are the Drules!”

“They are not going to attack us.” Mara insisted. “And if they do, it will be because of you.”

“Me?!” He scoffed then. “I’ve done nothing.”

“Nothing but purposefully antagonize them every chance you got!” Mara glared at him. “You had the Voltron Force stand closer to the lions than the Drule wanted us too! We’re lucky they even landed considering what a threat they would have felt that was! And was it really necessary to have so many laser trained on Haggar?”

“The soldiers were understandable nervous in the presence of the witch.” Grants said stiffly. “And with good reason. Anything I did today, I did to ensure we could move to minimize potential damage to this world and it’s people.”

She hadn’t even brought up his rudeness to Haggar. “You should have consulted us rather than try to trick us.”

“And you should have negotiated terms better.” Grants retorted, and Mara gasped. It wasn’t just a thing Allura would have done in the moment, Mara was truly insulted.

“Watch how you speak to her.” Keith snapped, a protective presence by Mara’s side.

“I think the princess is a little too soft hearted to be a part of this war.” Grants grumbled, ignoring what Keith had just said. “Though how she could still try to work with the Drule after all they’ve done to her planet, I’ll never understand.”

“We have to have some compassion.” Mara said. “Otherwise, we’re no better than what you say the Drule are like.”

“Those monsters deserve nothing from us!” Grants snapped. “Every last one of them should be wiped out!”

Keith must have sensed what Mara was going to do, for suddenly his hand was on her shoulder. It was truly the only reason Mara remember herself enough to not punch the General. “I am going to be requesting to the Alliance that you be removed from any farther dealings with Arus.” She had the satisfaction of seeing how angry he got at that, Grants snapping at her.

“You can’t do that!”

I can and I will.” Mara swore with relish. “Arus and the Voltron Force will not be used in any further grandstanding with the Drule. We will of course aid those in need, but we will not be playing any of YOUR games.”

“I’ll have the Alliance withdraw full support from Arus!” threatened Grants.

“You wouldn’t dare.” Mara drew herself up to her full height. She wasn’t as tall as most Drules were, too close to size in Allura that there was only an inch difference between them. Short as she was, Mara had a presence about her that when used made her seem taller than she really was. She used that presence now to loom menacingly over Grants. “If you so much as try, I’ll not only have you removed as Arus’ Garrison liaison, I’ll have you stripped of your rank and power.” A steely eyed glare at him. “Do not test me on this General. You’ll find the Alliance values the use of Voltron, more than they value a single General.”

He sputtered angrily, but she was already turning. As far as Mara was concerned, the conversation was over with. She did not look back, not even as the General shouted her name. Keith hurried after her, the soldiers all pretending they hadn’t seen the angry exchange between the princess of Arus and the Garrison General.

Mara waited until they were clear of most of the crowd, before turning to look at Keith. “I’m sorry Keith. I guess I couldn’t control my temper after all.”

“No, it’s fine.” Keith assured her. “I think he needed to be brought down a peg or two.”

“Still…tensions as they are, he could do some real damage to Arus before he is removed from power.” She sighed. “I shouldn’t have said as much as I did…not when Arus is in so vulnerable a position with the lions here on Kirentya.”

“You’re probably right about that, but it was still something to see!” Her eyes widened. Was that an admiring look in Keith’s eyes? “It’s not often I get to hear you be so forceful. Usually you reserve that kind of energy to defend your right to fly blue lion to Nanny and Coran.”

“Well, flying blue lion is something I’m passionate about…” Mara managed not to stammer uncertainly. She was so unnerved by the way Keith was looking at her. “And I’m just as passionate about defending Arus!” She let her shoulders sag. “Nanny and Coran will be disappointed with my outburst.” She worried the way Allura would have in the moment.

“Yeah, probably.” Keith agreed, and Mara’s shoulders sagged even further. “Hey, cheer up.” He urged. “You probably have Grants running so scared, he won’t have the nerve to do anything he threatened. Nanny and Coran need never know.” Mara hoped they wouldn’t find out, because the last thing she wanted to endure was any more of Nanny’s chastising tongue. It was bad enough just listening to the woman’s comments about the Drule, without having to be the personally focus of Gertrude’s disapproval.

“I suppose we’re going to have to go back to the hotel now.” Mara couldn’t keep from sounding depressed. She had spent too much time in the hotel, her every move pretty much watched by Nanny.

“We don’t have to.” Keith’s eyes twinkled.

“What do you mean?” Mara looked at him curiously.

“Well we skipped lunch. Surely Nanny can’t object to us stopping for a quick bite in town.”

Mara was delighted. “Oh yes, please! Can we do that!?” She had clasped her hands together, her eyes sparkling with her excitement.

“You got it princess!” Keith was chuckling, amused by her reaction. Mara was almost embarrassed, but that was how suffocated she had grown to feel under Nanny’s watchful eye. Mara couldn’t understand how Allura was able to stand it, the Drule female finding Nanny a painful experience that had to be endured. It had only been a few days, and yet Mara was chafing under the many restrictions Nanny placed on the princess. It was too much, to the point any little reason to get away from Nanny was a cause of elation. Mara was looking forward to this lunch, just as she looked forward to finally leaving Kirentya. One of Mara’s fervent hopes was that once on Arus, she could find things for Nanny to do. Things that would keep the woman away for longer periods of times. Mara knew she had to play the part of Princess Allura, but the Drule female was hoping that on Arus there would be a chance to let her hair down for once.


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