Better Worse 10

True to Lotor’s word, fighting did break out over Arus. The ships that made up the prince’s small fleet were all too eager to begin attacking our lands. Their zest for fighting more than made up for their small numbers. It would be barely minutes after sundown, and already the ships would descend upon Arus. Long and large war ships, carrying hundreds of smaller fighter craft. Their lasers lit up the night sky, bombs bursting and photon beams searing apart buildings.

Arus’ own military would be there to greet them. Not even half the full force was launched. My father had determined that the size of Lotor’s fleet only merited less than forty percent of the ships we had at our disposal. I’m sure the Drules laughed to see such an underwhelming number of ships speeding towards them. Those laughs would turn to screams once the fighting actively began.

It wouldn’t even take days to route the Drule from our planet. Lotor’s fleet had the heart, the determination to rescue their prince and seize the planet. But it was matched by our own people’s desire to protect this world. The many brave soldiers were determined to keep Arus from being invaded, even at the cost of their own lives. They fought just as viciously as the Drule, sometimes performing suicidal maneuvers that took out themselves as well as the Drules they were fighting.

The ships kept their distance from the castle. High up in the sky, we could barely see the ships, though we could hear their sounds. Every explosion, every missile fired, even the hum of a hundred engines roaring. The surface of Arus was littered with the destroyed remains of ships, both Arusian and Drule. Even now my people work to salvage parts and metal from the downed ships’ remains.

It took perhaps two days to force the surviving members of Lotor’s fleet into a retreat. Some of our ships pursued them, firing off warning shots at the slightest hesitation or inclination the Drules might have had to return to Arus.

But though the Drules fled, it was no time to rest and be relived. We had succeeded only in dealing with Lotor’s private army. The real test would be that of King Zarkon’s forces. My father would busy himself with meeting with the commanders and generals of the military. They would plot and plan out strategies, preparing themselves for any eventuality. I barely got to see my father during this time, and almost never without some important official by his side.

I can’t say I was privy to what my father discussed with his soldiers. Nor did I particularly want to sit in on the meetings. Not when I thought of having to look at the men and women who might give their lives in a war that was my fault. I was full of guilt, it physically sickened me, to the point I was nauseous nearly all the time. I didn’t think anything of it, assuming my guilt and the stress of the situation was manifesting itself as a sickness. A sickness that had me gagging often enough, certain smells triggering a near violent reaction to vomit within me.

By the third day of waiting, I was actually vomiting. Often enough to raise concern in those close to me. I thought nothing of it, insistent that it was my guilt and unease translating into an illness. I think I was in denial, not wanting to think what other reason could be behind the vomiting. But my mother was as shrewd as ever, though in truth it did not require much thought to garner the reason why I was truly sick.

She didn’t immediately blurt out her suspicions. And all because she wanted to ease me into the idea of the reason behind my frequent sickness. She’d come to visit me, bringing a long a tray of mint tea and some biscuits that lacked any real flavor. Things meant to appease my unsettled stomach in the hopes I could keep them down for once.

I can remember sitting down gratefully besides her. The room had been spinning slightly for me all morning, leaving me unsteady on my feet. I’d actually sip at the tea, and nibble on a biscuit, making polite small talk with my mother. The conversation wasn’t stilted. It flowed naturally between us, mother and daughter discussing what pleasantries there were to be found given Arus’ recent troubles with Doom.

But our thoughts were centered on the troubles between Arus and Doom. On the war they might be coming to our lands. It was only natural that I guided the conversation into talks about Doom and it’s King.

“Has there been any word?” I would finally ask, nibbling nervously on a biscuit. It wasn’t very appetizing, but it’s lack of taste kept me from getting sick. My mother slowly sipped her tea, considering her response before speaking.

“Nothing has been decided.” My mother told me. “King Zarkon has been polite, but strongly insistent that we return to him his son.”

“But father is just as insistent Lotor remain here on Arus.” I said knowingly. My father wasn’t the only one who wanted to punish Lotor. That desire was strong in me, though I did not want to jeopardize our planet and people in my quest to avenge myself of the humiliations I had suffered at Lotor’s hands. It was depressing to me to think Lotor would get away with it. That the worst he would suffer was several days inside a dungeon’s cell.

“It’s not yet officially come to war.” My mother continued. “The two Kings acknowledge that Prince Lotor was working on his own. The fleet that accompanied Prince Lotor to Arus not a part of Doom’s military.” Then she told me something I had not yet realized. “They were all fresh off the Drule Military Academy. Men and women not yet assigned to any post. King Zarkon claims he will punish the survivors accordingly for going along with his son’s schemes.”

“But what about Prince Lotor’s punishment?” I demanded, setting down the half eaten biscuit. “What, if anything will King Zarkon do about his son’s crimes?”

“I don’t think he will do much at all.” My mother admitted. “King Zarkon is loathe to do any long lasting punishments to his son. I think at best, he will be under house arrest for short amount of time.”

“That is not good enough!” I exclaim, my tone angry.

“Your father would agree.” A faint smile on my mother’s lips, though it didn’t reach her eyes. She was worried, and tired of what little fighting we had suffered through so far. Diana did not want an actual war to come to Arus, and might have even feared that both my anger and my father’s, would lead us to bring true trouble to the world. All because we both equally wanted to punish Lotor so severely.

“Alfor has refused to hand over Lotor to King Zarkon.” Continued my mother. “He is not ready to hand over the criminal who not only defiled his daughter, but tried to blackmail the royal house into giving up control of Arus. Fortunately for us, King Zarkon is not eager for war any between our worlds, anymore than we are. He is trying to negotiate a way for Lotor to be released into his custody. A negotiation he is failing…”

I was pleased to hear it, even as I knew if negotiations were ultimately ended before a favorable outcome could be reached, war truly would happen. In light of this, my duty should have been clear. I should have been actively working to calm my father down, to get him to see why Lotor had to be returned to planet Doom. As the injured party, the one who had suffered the most at his hands, it would have been my right to speak up for leniency where Lotor was concerned. If I could be gracious enough to publicly forgive Lotor, then my father would have to follow suit.

But I was not yet at a place where forgiveness was possible. I was learning I could hold a grudge, could allow my anger to fester and poison me from within. It didn’t help matters that I had seen how many of the people inside the castle were now looking at me. They knew something, though what I could not say for sure. But clearly they suspected that the reason behind Lotor’s dungeon stay had to do at least partly with me.

Contact between Lotor and the castle personnel was limited to just the guards who were stationed in the dungeons. They handled everything, even brought the prince his meals. This was done to minimize the things Lotor could tell people. But even castle guards aren’t above gossiping. Even under threat of losing their jobs, someone was bound to say something and surely had.

Since that day when everything came crashing down, my parents learning of just what I did with Prince Lotor, I had been told more details of what exactly happened during that meeting. I knew Lotor had played the footage of our tryst, and that some of the guards that had accompanied my parents to the meeting, had seen some of the footage. I wasn’t told which guards, as if that could spare me some embarrassment. It didn’t. I merely looked at every soldier, and wondered if they were the ones that had seen me in a moment that should have been private.

It was humiliating, and yet could have been worse. Lotor could have escaped to hold up his threat of releasing the footage to the galaxy’s media. If that had happened, there would be no escaping my mortification. It was difficult enough just dealing with the gossips of the castle, let alone having the accusing eyes of the galaxy turned against me.

I began to nervously drink my tea. Just thinking about the humiliation that had been avoided was enough to unsettle my stomach. The nauseous feeling was back, though I thought I could control my urge to vomit. Especially given how little I had eaten in these last few hours.

“Allura, are you okay?” My mother had a concerned look in her eyes as she studied me. I did not answer immediately, swallowing down more of the tea.

“I am fine mother.” I assured her. “I am just stressed.”

“You certainly have cause for that.” Agreed my mother. She set down her cup. “It’s an awful burden that has been placed upon you. So many worries and fears…” I found myself nodding in agreement. “But, I think it’s more to it than just that.”

“Oh? What do you mean?”

“There’s a very real reason you’ve been so sick lately.” My mother said, tone gentle. “And I don’t believe stress could account for all your symptoms…” I shifted in my seat, uncomfortable now. It was clear my maids had told my mother about all that ailed me, to the point she worried about me. That worry troubled me. My stomach grew even more unsettled, as though reacting to my mother’s concern. I had a bad feeling about what she was about to say, and did not want to acknowledge it, even in my own private thoughts.

“It’s just stress mother…” I insisted. “It’s lowering my defenses, making me more susceptible to illness…”

“And yet you have not made time to go see Doctor Gorma to address your symptoms.” My mother pointed out, then shook her head no. “Allura…you have to take better care of yourself. Especially now…” I did not say anything to that, just busying myself with finishing off my tea. “If you are with child…”

The crash of porcelain shattering on the floor cut off my mother’s words. I had dropped my cup, the remains of the hot liquid splattering onto my shoes and the floor around them. My mother gasped, and approached me, a napkin ready to dab at the mess.

“Allura, are you all right?” She asked. “None of the tea got on you, did it?”

It was only on my shoes, my skin protected by the soft leather. Dully I shook my head no. But my mother did not look relieved. If anything she looked even more concerned, eyes studying me critically. Who could blame her for her trouble, when my skin had gone deathly pale at her words.

“I am not pregnant.” I managed to say. Even to myself I sounded eerily calm. It was deceptive, for there was nothing calm about the feelings churning within me.

My mother looked at me, and her blue eyes looked sad now. She wasn’t happy to have to bring this subject up, nor did she want to try and force an acceptance within me. But she wouldn’t back down from what she suspected. “Allura…”

“NO!” I shout again, and shove past her. My chair tumbles sideways, I am agitated and pacing about the room in a fast manner. “It’s not true. I can’t be pregnant.”

My mother moved to follow me, though she wasn’t as hurried as me. She watched me as though she feared I might try to hurt myself in response to the very idea I could be pregnant. “Allura, it’s a very real possibility. You slept with Prince Lotor.” I shake my head, but say nothing. What is there to deny? She knew as well I did that I had had sex with that fiend.

“And from what you told me, he did not use any method of protection.” Continued my mother. My shoulders sagged, the realization of how foolish I had been that night weighing heavily upon me. I had not been on any birth control. There had been no need, I had never planned to sleep with anyone before I was formally married. And of course, Lotor hadn’t bothered to try and protect me from conceiving. That made me angry all over again, such a violent intensity to my emotions it made me wonder if I could be capable of murder.

Not that I would go to see Prince Lotor. I had visited him one and only one time in the castle dungeons. Seeing Lotor served no purpose, and succeeded only in making my own pain and self hate stronger. Not even the thought of hitting him again could make me go see him now. And I did want to hit him. I wanted to brutalize him in such a way that he would never again dare touch a woman with false intent.

“Allura…” My mother was trying to get my attention. I kept my back to her, hands clenching into fists at my side. “You need to get checked out. Please…come with me see Doctor Gorma. He’ll be discrete…”

“And then what?!” I demanded, not turning to face her. “What will we do if I do turn out to be pregnant?!” My mother didn’t say anything, and I let out a bitter, scoffing sound. “Even you don’t know, do you?” I softened my tone, speaking more for my benefit than hers. “He’s truly succeeded in ruining me….No man will have me…not now that I carry Lotor’s bastard!”

“Allura, that’s not true!” protested my mother.

“Isn’t it?! You know the expectations our society puts on women. On how we are expected to be chaste and pure until we marry for the first and only time. A woman who has been used, a woman who has so foolishly given herself away without a commitment? She is scorned. I will be a symbol of ridicule, and so will any child I give birth to!”

“Allura…” My mother has caught up to me, wrapping her arms around me. “We will find a way to fix this mess….”

My eyesight was blurring, my eyes getting wet with tears. “How?”

“Let us worry about it one step at a time.” My mother suggested. “We shall go to Doctor Gorma. Have him run some tests. If it confirms what I suspect, then we will discuss this with your father.”

“My father!?” My knees gave out at the thought of his anger. My mother half fell with me as I collapsed. I moaned out a protest, bringing my hands to cover my face. “He’s going to hate me for this!”

“Oh no! He could never hate you dear!” my mother protested.

“But I’ve ruined everything!” I exclaimed. “I’ve certainly ruined my own prospects for the future….and now Arus is in danger of war…”

“Do not give up hope my daughter.” My mother told me, kneeling on the floor with me. Her arms were around me, trying to hug some comfort to me. “Things look bad now, but remember. It is always darkest before the dawn.”

Her words did nothing to make me feel better. I was feeling ready to vomit again, and this time it surely would have to do with the new stress that I had been given. I lowered my hands to my stomach, as though I could feel the potential life growing within me. I couldn’t, nor did I feel any warmth or charitable thoughts towards the potential baby. Not when it served to ruin my life so thoroughly.

I didn’t cry though. I was tired of tears, emotionally drained so that all I knew was fear and uncertainty. It was with that fear, that I would follow my mother to the castle’s medical wing. I was in a daze, ignoring the people who looked at us in surprise. I didn’t even care if they would gossip about the reasons behind my visit to the doctor. I just wanted the testing over with! I’d actually say a prayer in the exam room, wishing, hoping I would prove to just be sick. An illness would be infinitely better than a baby!

But my prayers seemed to go unanswered. Doctor Gorma would return to the exam room, a grim expression on his face. One look into his eyes, and I wanted to cry. And all because I knew what his answer would be. I didn’t even wait for him to give me confirmation, I just blurted out my assumptions.

“It’s true, isn’t it?” I demanded, voice breaking on a sob I did not want to voice. “I’m pregnant.”

“I am sorry your highness.” Doctor Gorma said. “I ran each test several times, and the results were the same….you are indeed with child.”

I think the floor went out from beneath me, for suddenly I was flat on my back. The doctor and my mother hovered over me concerned. I waved off their hands, slowly sitting up. “I’m fine.” I said, though that wasn’t true. I might never be fine again. And it was as much my fault as it was Lotor’s!

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