Better Worse 01

There was an excitement in the air. An excitement that was contagious, nearly every man, woman and child feeling it. It had been building for the last week, people getting ready for this day. It wasn’t just the castle that was affected. All of Arus was gearing up for a grand celebration. There would be partying in the streets, parades being held, festivals set up with free food and drink. Even games to be played.

The castle itself would be the center of the celebration. For little more than a month, the servants had been busy getting everything prepared. From cleaning the guest rooms, to decorating the grand ball room. Elaborate feasts had been cooking for the last three days, all of my favorite foods being prepared. No expense was being spared, from the decorations to the patterned China to even the dress I would wear.

After all a person only gets one eighteenth birthday. One last hurrah before they enter into adulthood, and put aside childish things. I was more than ready for it, having spent the last half year looking forward to this evening. Of course, my excitement had little to do with the party or the presents I would be given. It didn’t even have to do with the fact that I would officially be an adult, able to make many of my own decisions from this point on.

No, I can’t say I was thinking much about that or the responsibilities that I would soon be given. My interest in tonight’s party, had nothing to do with celebrating my coming of age, or of meeting with the visiting dignitaries from other planets. No. My interest lie solely in making an impression, in showing a certain crown prince of a distant world how much I had grown.

It had been nearly three years since I had last seen Prince Lotor of planet Doom. Nearly three years, and much had changed. A late bloomer, I hadn’t hit my growth spurt until after the prince had entered into the Drule Military Academy. He hadn’t been to Arus since he had started his training. Nor had he had reason to contact me during this time.

It hurt to be ignored. But then I suppose he hadn’t had time to call on a child he could just barely tolerate. That is what I was to him, a child, a nuisance to be tolerated only because of who my parents were. It mattered not that we had spent a few of our child hood summers together. Prince Lotor was nearly four years older than me, and had never had much tolerance for a young girl’s foolishness.

It wasn’t always that way. When he had first come to Arus, we had gotten along well enough. Children young enough to want to do nothing more than play. But the age difference was always there, and all too soon Lotor would become a teenager. While I remained a child in looks and demeanor. While the prince was starting to grow up, to notice things that had nothing to do with toys and playing.

It hurt to be left behind, but there was nothing I could do. I couldn’t make myself grow older and mature, not when I still had a child’s heart, delighting in the games only the young can play. Of course, some of this had to do with cultural differences. Lotor was after all a Drule, and it was my understanding that his people were forced to grow up a lot sooner than we humans. Something about the harsh environs of their home world left little opportunity for a child to thrive.

It was doubly true when added in the ever changing political climes of his home world. Even at that young age, Lotor had had responsibilities placed on his shoulders. The burden of being watched, even manipulated. His every word, thought and action scrutinized for hidden meanings. Of course back then, I had been ignorant of just how much he faced. I only understood that my playmate was rapidly outgrowing me.

It is different on Arus. I was sheltered from many things, free to grow at a less rapid pace. I was allowed the chance to be a child, to play, to laugh, to even cry. I knew little of the worlds outside of Arus, and even less of what would be expected of me once I reached an age suitable enough to dip into palace politics. I truly was a soft, childish girl, carefree and wild.

I don’t always miss those days. For all the fun I had had, I had been sheltered to the point of ignorance. No wonder Lotor had been annoyed by me. No wonder he could barely tolerate my antics. How childish I must have seemed, how utterly flighty and vapid. No care in the world except for my toys.

I’ve changed now. And not just in looks. The last three years have been quite the education. I’ve been schooled on all matter of things, not just on Arus, but on the worlds that neighbor us. I’ve learned much, history, politics, and even to this day my studies continue. I’ve become fluent in seven different languages, with more to be learned in the coming months. My studies might never stop, not even should the day come that I step up as Queen of this planet.

But for all my lessons and newly acquired knowledge, one thing hasn’t changed. This need, my one vanity. The desire to impress upon Lotor how I’ve changed. To show him I am so much more than the air headed child he once was forced to associate with. I know I must put an end to the Allura of yesteryear, and show to him the woman I stand on the verge of becoming.

I dream of proving myself his equal when it comes to intellectual matters. Or proving myself knowledgeable about the affairs that extend beyond Arus and Doom, of being able to discuss our world’s politics without stumbling. I want to be able to hold his interest, to converse with him on all manner of subjects. I will put to good use my education, but first I must capture and hold his interest.

I must use what is available to me, that of my own looks and appeal. I know that I am attractive, that already many whisper of my beauty when they think I cannot hear. I am no longer the tomboy princess, the child who was too busy playing to have a care about her own appearance. I am blossoming into a beauty that could rival my own mother, perhaps in a few years time I will surpass even her.

But I don’t care about that. I only care about getting Lotor’s attention. In drawing him away from all others. It is obsession that drives me, that fuels my every action towards this coming evening. I don’t even take a minute to stop and think why this man’s opinion matters so to me. Perhaps I am in denial of just how badly I want him to notice me.

I’ve made a habit of studying my target, in learning everything I can about him. It wasn’t always easy, the Drule Military Academy tightlipped when it came to releasing information about it’s students. But some times word leaked to the press, the reporters hounding the prince whenever Lotor went off Academy grounds. I know he has matured into his looks, becoming a strikingly handsome young man. I also know he has an eye for the ladies, a different exotic female on his arm in every news report.

He appreciates beauty. He’ll appreciate me for that same reason. One look at me should be enough to shatter all memory of the foolish child I once was. Never again will he find me intolerable. He will be enchanted, complete and utterly so. I can’t help relishing the thought of his reaction, a smile staying on my face all day long. It feels like I’ve waited a lifetime for this moment to come, and now that the appointed hour draws near, time seems to slow to a standstill.

Lotor is already in the castle. He arrived shortly after lunch, a small entourage of Drules accompanying him. I purposefully did not go out to greet him. I’ve stayed hidden in my rooms all day, avoiding any chance of running into Lotor. It’s all part of my plan you see. I want nothing to stand in the way of making a memorable first impression. I have everything planned right down to the tiniest details. He will not see me until my arrival is announced at the party. His first glimpse of me shall be when the spotlight falls on my body, and I am standing at the top of the ball room staircase.

I could almost giggle to imagine the stunned look of surprise on his face once Lotor realizes that I am Allura, the child he once dismissed so easily. It will be a crowning moment of triumph for me. My satisfaction will surge, to think I’ve put an end to the Allura of his memories.

I could spend hours gloating over what I know will happen. But there simply isn’t the time. My dreams have to give way to reality, I have to prepare myself for my own grand entrance. Several castle maids are present, ready to help me, no matter the task. From running the bath waters, to helping brush out my hair, no detail is neglected. I am downright spoiled by their treatment.

I am thoroughly pampered, fingernails and toenails painted to match my new dress. My long hair shines under the lights, gleaming golden curls that go down past my waist. I have no intention of wearing it up, loose and luxurious is what this night calls for. I already feel like a newborn Goddess, even before I put on the dress. I am shaking with excitement, barely able to contain myself as the minutes count down.

We’re just late enough in finishing last minute preparations for me to be fashionably late to my own birthday celebration. I can feel my heart beating faster, every part of me excited. Already people are looking at me, the men seeming in awe of my transformation from pretty girl to seductive siren. I cannot wait to be presented to the ball room, my hand gripping hold of the staircase’s rail for support. My knees are shaking, my legs feeling as though they might give out. But I refuse to be overcome by this excitement I feel.

I make it to the top of the landing. Coran, my father’s advisor is waiting to announce me. He takes one look at me in my new dress, and his eyes widen in shock. I smile at him, and nod. That is his cue to announce me. But he can barely take his eyes off me, almost forget to blow the announcing note on his horn. He is still staring at me as the crowd inside the ball room grow quiet with anticipation.

“It…it is my pleasure to announce her royal highness.” Coran’s voice quickly smoothes over from that first stammered out word. “The Princess Allura of Arus!”

I step forward, the sound of the people hailing me in my ears. The curtains part, and immediately the spotlight finds me. Somewhere, a woman gasps, the sound theatrical in it’s loud outrage. The rest of my audience seems stunned, leaving me to wonder if the dress I picked out was too much. But I am sure there is nothing improper about the dress, save for a rather low cut cleavage line.

Fighting a moment’s uncertainty, I smile at the crowd awaiting my descent. My eyes are moving through the crowd, searching the groups for a familiar face. For his familiar face. He is not the only Drule present, but he is the only one with the hair colored so pure a white, it reminds me of freshly fallen snow.

I find him, and my smile freezes in place. Lotor is not near the front of the steps, but situated near the far end of the room. For one brief instant his eyes meet mine, and they show nothing of what I want to see. Beautiful though exotic, alien and cold, they are as dismissive of me now as they had been three years ago. As if I am not crushed enough, he turns towards one of his companions. The beautiful alien on his right arm leans into him, and both his and her’s lips curve in smiles.

There is no way for me to know what is being said, but I am sure the topic of conversation has nothing to do with me. Lotor’s companion, one of two women, one for each arm, doesn’t even look my way. Instead her head falls back, the long, elegant line of her throat exposed as she lets out a trill of laughter at whatever the prince has said to her.

My cheeks have surely turned red. I am prepared to blame that on the heat of the spotlight. But I know the real cause. It is mortification, I am dying over being rejected by him. I want to turn on my new heels, and run from the room. But that would make even more of a scene than my new dress, and would disappoint my parents and all the servants who put effort into making this day special for me.

Somehow I find the ability to move forward. My hand is shaking though, gripping the railing so hard the color bleeds out of my knuckles. My smile is frozen in place, I am blinking back tears as I make my careful way down the staircase. My parents are waiting at the foot of it, smiling up at me. My father’s expression looks a bit forced, he does not approve of my low cut dress. But there is nothing he can truly do about it. I am now an adult, a woman of eighteen years.

My parents are the first to wish me happiness on my birthday. It is all I can do not to sob. And yet I survive, enduring the well wishes of the guests who come to attend to me. Everyone is smiling, laughing. They are all having a good time, enjoying the party that has been thrown in my honor. That include Prince Lotor and his two dates. I try not to look his way, and yet I am drawn to him. Like a moth to a flame, my eyes constantly seeking him out. Always to be disappointed.

As far as I know, he hasn’t even looked at me since my arrival. He’s too busy with the women he has brought to my birthday party. It is an insult, an indignity, but one I must endure with all the good manner and graces of a princess. When really I want to walk over to him, and throw my drink in his face. I know he would not be able to ignore me then, not with the insult I would give him. And yet I hold back, the model of pure restraint. I will not cause an incident between our two worlds over my own hurt feelings at being ignored.

My hurt continues, and I try to lose myself to the partying. I get my first taste of champagne, and discover I like the bubbly drink. I might even drink away my pain, if not for the watchful eyes around me. Always I must control myself, always I must behave in moderation, right down to what I eat and drink. I cannot offer a scandal to my family, cannot afford to get drunk and humiliate them as well as myself.

When I am not partaking of the champagne, I am dancing. Always with that plastered on smile, faking a happiness that can never reach my eyes. There are many young men close to my own age at this party. Many men who are eager to dance with the beautiful princess of Arus. But they are not Lotor. No matter how they try to engage my interest, my heart is breaking. My fantasies of tonight have fallen apart, the harsh reality one I don’t want to face. How he must hate me. How he must despise me, to ignore me so completely.

It’s thoughts like that, that drive me to make excuses. I flee from the men who all clamor for a turn with me on the dance floor. I can no longer keep up the pretense of being happy, I’ll break completely if I see him one more time, smiling at some woman who isn’t me.

There are protests when I try to leave. But I am adamant that I need a break, and that it is one I will take alone. I am forced to exchange promises, to decide who will get the next dance upon my return to the party. These men who clustered around me are nothing like Lotor, so interested, so charmed by me. I should be flattered, not depressed! Who cares if Prince Lotor doesn’t deign to even notice me. And yet I know that it matters to me his lack of interest. Matters in a way that shocks me from the strength of it.

I make my escape to one of the room’s two balconies. Perhaps the fresh air will do me some good once I am away from all the mixed perfumes and after shaves of the attending guests. The curtains can’t quite muffle out the sound of the party, or the fact that everyone but me is having a good time. I want to weep in pure misery, but do not want to ruin my eye make up. I settle for biting my lip, and twisting my handkerchief in my hands. It’s not enough to make me feel better, doesn’t alleviate my upset in the slightest.

The sky is dark this evening, only a sliver of the moon can be seen. It suits my mood, I am no longer a creature that craves the light, or the company of others. I just want to be alone to wallow in my misery. To stand there and wonder why I let Lotor matter so much to me. Why I had let my hopes build up for something that obviously was never going to happen.

“I’m still such a child…” I whisper sadly under my breath. “Still just a foolish dreamer.”

It would have been better if I had never gotten my hopes up. If I had never deluded myself with fanciful imaginings of what could happen between us. I wouldn’t be hurting so bad, I wouldn’t be so angry, so disappointed. With him, and with myself.

I know I can’t spend all night out on the balcony. Sooner or later people will come looking for me. But I want to spend just a few more minutes composing myself. Even if it means being rude to the person who has parted the curtains, and joined me out here. I can tell it is a man by his heavy footsteps, and the brief scent of spicy after shave that carries to me on the faint breeze.

I wonder if this man will go away if I ignore him. But before I can even make a show of doing that, he is speaking to me. His familiar voice has my back stiffening, I fight not to turn, not wanting my eyes to confirm what my ears are already telling me.

“It’s another beautiful night on Arus.” He says. “I’ve forgotten how perfect this planet is…forgotten how much I missed visiting it.”

I cannot stay still or silent anymore, I turn, skirts rustling from my movement. He is standing there, a vision in his finely pressed military uniform. There are several medals pinned to his chest, various awards given to him for bravery and a myriad of accomplishments. I think I choose to focus on the medals, rather than look him in the face. It’s easier that way, even as I say in a soft, startled voice.


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