Better Worse 16

It is raining the day my wedding is set to take place. A thick, heavy downpour whose dark colored clouds block out what little sun there is. It suits my mood, my heart heavy, my thoughts dark and depressing. I know it is just a coincidence, but it feels fitting that the weather match the misery in my heart. And all because I am not looking forward to making things official with Prince Lotor.

I am sure he feels similar. The prince has not tried to hide his disdain for this marriage, his desire to escape the wedding’s noose. The last two days he has been busy, coming up with schemes. None of them have worked, not even his attempts to delay the wedding by demanding outrageous requests for the ceremony. He had tried to cover those requests under Drule custom and traditions. Malenia the wedding coordinator had almost fallen for his tricks. She had actually set about to order some of the things Lotor had demanded, and only a chance encounter with my father had kept the wedding from being delayed by weeks.

My father was never one to fall for Lotor’s tricks, and he wasn’t about to start now. He had demanded Malenia make him a list of the things Lotor had insisted were an integral part of a Drule wedding ceremony. That list would be used to ascertain the truth, my father discovering that almost everything Lotor had asked for was not only out of season and would take time to arrive, but had had little to do with any weddings, let alone a Drule’s.

I don’t know what words my father exchanged with Lotor exactly, but the wedding was continuing as scheduled. With little to no changes, and hardly any Drule culture of note. I didn’t know what to feel about that, if I should be glad the wedding would soon be over with, or sad that my future would be bound to Lotor’s. I did not want disgrace or ruin to be brought to me and my family. Nor did I particularly want to marry a man I so despised. But I am a princess first and foremost. I know what it means to make sacrifice. It is expected that I put my own happiness aside for the good of the many, and I tell myself it will do my parents and the baby I carry the utmost good if I follow through and marry Prince Lotor.

But I don’t expect it to be an easy marriage. Nor a particularly happy one. Especially with the way Lotor and I feel towards each other. Relations between us are still tense at best. We’ve spent these last two days avoiding each other as much as we could. In fact, the only time I have seen him was during meals, when my parents had insisted we all eat together. Those times Lotor and I had barely acknowledged each other, sharing no more than a few angry looks and absolutely no words exchanged between us.

It’s not so easy to ignore him. I am all too conscious of Lotor when he is in the same room as me. I am aware of his every movement, watching him out the corner of my eye. I hate that I pay so much attention to him, and I am tired of the effort it takes to pretend otherwise. Some part of me blames it on those feelings I have for him. Those distorted, twisted things that both make me hate and remember the moments before he ruined my innocence completely. I sometimes even find myself wishing, longing for the Allura of two and a half weeks ago. The Allura who had been innocent, who had been a foolish dreamer with love on her mind, and hope in her heart.

Other times I am disgusted by how naive I had once been. How sheltered and unaware. Lotor would never have been able to take advantage of me if I had been a bit wiser to the ways of men. Or so I tell myself that. But I fear he still would have been able to manipulate me, and all because I cannot imagine being so hardened without something cruel being done to me first.

I have changed. I have been transformed by Lotor’s cruelty and manipulations. I don’t know if the Allura I have become is a better person, or if she’s simply that much more cold and wretched. I wish I could detach myself from all emotions. Maybe then it would be easier to get through this day, and to tolerate my bridal party’s chatter. Right now it’s all I can do to pretend to be a part of the conversations. I’m making murmured sounds to show I am listening, though nine times out of ten I am not. I only catch parts of the conversations, standing in the center of the room as women fuss over me.

I’ve long since been dressed in my make shift wedding gown. It is lovely, but no dream dress. It is downright plain compared to the royal brides of Arus’ past. Even with the adornments that have been added to the cloth, the pearl and lace, and the extensive train, it’s neither special or all that fashionable. I occasionally stare at my reflection with depressed eyes, wishing things were different. And not just for my gown, but for this whole wedding. It should have been a dream come true, a fine celebration of the match I had made. But there is none of that, the entire affair rushed, and full of left overs from previous parties.

Someone is behind me, fussing over my hair. My long blond locks have been swept up, so nearly all of it is restrained in a bun. Only a few long strands are left loose to frame my face, the hair tightly curled so golden ringlets caress my shoulders. There are white pearls pinned in place to my scalp, with a few barely budding roses slipped in between them. My veil descends from that row of pearls and flowers, but I have not yet drawn it over my face. Nor will I, not until it is time to make my walk down the aisle.

A maid is in front of me, eyes critical as she tries to decide just how much make up to put on me. I don’t even care for all this care they show me, feeling their attempts at making me beautiful are a wasted thing. After all, what use is it? Lotor will not care, nor do I want to work to impress him. Not after what had happened the last time I had tried to dazzle him with my looks.

My mother, Diana, is also present in the room. Occasionally I catch her eye, and force a strained smile her way. Her’s is no better, Diana seeming more sad than anything to be giving me away. But at least she’s not crying! I wouldn’t have been able to bear it, if she sent me of to my wedding with tears in her eyes.

My mother and I can’t really talk. Not about anything meaningful, and not with so many women present. They are the type to listen and quickly spread whatever choice tidbits they overhear. Even the women who are family, who are part of the bridal party, must be viewed with suspicion for gossip cares nothing about friendship and familial ties when it comes to it’s spread.

I wont cry. But I can’t be happy either. It is apparent to all by the lack of sparkle in my eyes. The maids are trying to distract me, telling me idle pieces of gossip. It is meant to be a fun sharing, something to take my mind off my worries. But all I can see is how quick and easy it is to spread rumors.

“Honestly Allura.” My Aunt Orla has spoken, the first real frown on her face as she looks at me. “What bride goes to her husband with such a look on her face?”

I can’t even answer her question honestly, for what I would say would be too revealing. “I’m sorry Aunt Orla.” I say out loud. “I just have a lot on my mind…”

“What could you possibly have to worry about?” Aunt Orla is too shrewd, eyes narrowed as though she would see inside me to my soul. “This is a happy occasion. Meant to put an end to any trouble between Arus and Doom!”

“Auntie…I think Allura was hoping the reasons behind her marrying would be a lot more romantic than stopping a war.” It is my cousin Romelle who speaks, glancing at our Aunt with a chastising look.

“Romance is something those in our position can’t often afford.” Orla answered, tone stiff. She would know, having married almost as young as me, and never for love. Even after the union had been made official, the love had never blossomed between my aunt and uncle. “We rarely if ever marry for love…you have to have much more practical expectations for this union, Allura.”

“But love CAN come after the wedding.” Romelle insisted. She glanced at me, and smiled. “You just have to give it a chance.” My cousin wasn’t exactly naive, nor was she experienced. She still believed in love, in happy endings. I hoped she never becomes as disillusioned as I have become.

“Of course they can try.” Agreed Orla. “But I don’t think Allura should get her hopes up for something that might never happen.”

“Nor should she enter into this marriage expecting to be disappointed!” countered Romelle. “She…they can be happy.”

“Of course they can. But you don’t need love to be happy.” Argued Orla.

“What kind of life is a life without love?” wondered Romelle. It was a question I feared I knew the answer to, misery looking to stretch out endless before me.

“Romelle…you are young…young enough to think love is everything.” Orla was trying to be kind, even as she struggled to hide her exasperation with her niece. “But in time…you may see….you will have to settle for what happiness you can get…at the sacrifice of love from your life.”

“I will never settle for a life without love!” announced my cousin boldly. “And neither should Allura!”

“What would you have me do, cousin?” I sounded tired as I asked that. “Would you have me cancel the wedding, and wait for love to come to me?”

“Cancel the wedding?” My aunt looked appalled. “At this late a time?! With all our guests present? Never mind what rides on this union? Impossible!”

“Allura didn’t say she WOULD cancel the wedding.” My mother quickly spoke up. “She merely wanted to know what her cousin, Romelle would suggest she do otherwise.”

We all looked at Romelle then, who shifted, suddenly uncomfortable to be the focus of our stares. “I don’t know exactly.” She admitted, seeming to deflate with disappointment. “I just think it’s terrible to give up on love…no matter what age you are…”

I tried to keep the startled look off my face. Her words had resonated with me. I was realizing I HAD given up on love. I was sure my fate was sealed, trapped in a loveless marriage, a loveless existence with the man who had hurt me so. My other options weren’t much better, love seeming determined to evade me now that I had squander the first blossoming of it on Lotor.

“If she and Lotor never come to love one another….she can always spend her love on the children this union produces.” My Aunt said. I fought not to touch my belly in a move that would give away my pregnant condition.

Romelle was frowning. “That’s still not quite the same as a love for one’s partner.”

“But sometimes it’s all we can get.” Ever the expert, Orla had given up on finding love for herself, and instead devoted it to her family. That included not only the children she had birthed, but the extended members of our family.

“I think that’s enough of that kind of talk.” My mother said, clapping her hands together. “Unless you are both purposefully trying to depress my daughter on her wedding day?”

“Oh no!” exclaimed Romelle, and Orla also voiced her protests. “Never that!”

I flashed a grateful look my mother’s way. She’d return it with a nod. She alone understood the turmoil I was experiencing, being the only other in this room who was privy to my private agony.

“It’s such a shame about the weather.” A maid was saying, fluffing out my skirts. Another would speak up.

“I hear on some planets it’s considered good luck to have it rain on the day of the wedding.”

“Really? What archaic world is that?” Laughed another.

“Earth I think.” Came the answer.

“Isn’t it almost time?” I asked over their musings. That got everyone looking at the room’s clock, people spying it was a quarter past the hour. The time got everyone stirred up, people starting to frantically grab at things in a hurried attempt to make sure everything was ready, and everyone was presentable.

“Where is Malenia?” My Aunt Orla demanded, naming the wedding coordinator. Her question made us realize we hadn’t seen the woman in quite some time, people turning puzzled and then worried about her absence.

“You don’t think something is happening?” asked my cousin, showing her worry. “To delay the wedding I mean?”

“Whatever could?” Orla wanted to know, and Romelle shrugged. I didn’t miss the looks my maids gave each other. They might not be privy to the true reason behind this wedding, but it was clear they had noticed Prince Lotor’s lack of enthusiasm about getting married to me. What’s more, I was sure they thought he was the reason behind this delay. Even worse, I feared those suspicions would prove true.

“Perhaps we should go find Malenia…” I said, trying to move through the crowd to get to the room’s door.

“Oh no need for you to go.” Insisted my mother, waving me off. “I will go find her…and get to the bottom of this delay.”

“Yes, let your mother go.” Romelle encouraged. “She will get some answers, and with luck the ceremony will start without any further hitches.”

I could only hope she was right about that, though out loud all I did was voice my agreement. “All right.”

“I’ll be back as soon as I can.” My mother said, and hurried out of the room. We got a glimpse of the guards stationed out in the hall, and then the door swung shut. With it’s closing, conversation resumed, most of the chatter idle. I didn’t even try to participate in the talking, lost in my own thoughts and worries. I couldn’t know for sure what was going on, but just that there was a delay strongly hinted Lotor had caused some kind of trouble. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to know just what sort of trouble he had done, and yet a part of me was morbidly curious. Would there be a scandal? Or was my father and Malenia working to minimize the chaos that resulted from Lotor’s antics?

My mother wouldn’t return soon enough for my liking. The hour would end, a new one beginning before she’d rush back in the room. Malenia would be behind her, the wedding coordinator looking more than a little frazzled.

“All right everyone!” Malenia exclaimed, clapping her hands together three times and loudly. “It’s time!”

I looked past her to my mother. Diana would do a subtle shake of her head no. I knew then I wasn’t going to get any answers as to what Lotor had done to try and stop the wedding. I suppose it was enough to know he had failed.

Malenia was already trying to herd my group out the door. We didn’t go quietly, questions being asked. They were questions that were ignored, Malenia refusing to answer, the woman the epitome of discreet.

She was also in a rush, determined to get this wedding back on track and without anymore delays. If she could have, Malenia would have made us run to the ball room. But my dress, with it’s elaborate train made such an act impossible. We moved as quick as we could, and still it was not enough for Malenia, the wedding coordinator harried and harping at us. She had enough sense to lower her voice as we neared the first floor’s entrance to the ball room.

The doors were closed, but we could hear the murmur of the guests. They sounded impatient, and were surely wondering how much longer it would be before the ceremony started. Malenia would have a few more choice words for us all, coming forward to arrange my veil so that it covered my face and flowed down my back without bunching up along the way.

“All right…Your father is going to escort you up the stairs.” Malenia was saying. “Little Belinda will have the ends of your train in her hands, to keep it from snagging on anything. Pace yourself as you walk…I don’t want you getting to the top of the stairs before the music ends.”

It was all stuff I had heard before, Malenia having drilled the details into my mind. “All right.” I say, feeling impatience stir with my nervousness. I want this wedding over with! I want to be able to sit down, to rest my tired feet. I want out of this dress, and into something more comfortable. I can only be relieved that I don’t feel sick, no sign of nausea or dizziness coming over me.

“Good…” Malenia looked ready to give the signal for the doors to open, and then her eyes widened in alarm. “Your bouquet! Where is it?!”

Before she could work herself up to a proper fit, a maid was hurrying forward, handing me the pale colored flowers. “Here you are, your highness.”

“Okay…..last minute details taken care of…music will start the instant the doors open. Bridal party goes ahead first…the princess Allura will enter last…” We all murmured our understanding of Malenia’s words, the wedding coordinator practically glaring as she signaled for the doors to be pushed open. Immediately we heard the starting strains of a traditional Arusian song, one that was popular to play at weddings.

The maids would enter first, followed by my cousin and Aunt. My mother would enter just before me, wearing the best smile she could manage. It wasn’t particularly happy, but it was a smile nonetheless. I was glad for my veil, for it hid my own depressed grimace. Malenia was to the side, in the shadows of the hall. She was counting out the beats, and when enough had passed, she signaled me to make my entrance.

Flashes of light would go off, dazzling me as the entire crowd rose to their feet at my entrance. They would remain standing as I walked past their seats, little Belinda bravely holding onto the ends of my train. I could see my father standing at the foot of the stairs, handsome in his suit. He too wore a strained look, not quite managing a smile like my mother had.

I kept my eyes on my father, ignoring all the sounds and sights of the ball room and the wedding guests. I couldn’t stand to see their happy faces, the hopes they harbored for this union of mine. It was all lies, this wedding of mine. The reason we were all gathered here was not to stop any war. Not really. It was to keep the secret of my shame from being found out. It was to give this baby I carried a legitimate name, to give it a future where it could be happy. Pity I couldn’t say the same for myself and for Lotor.

My hands had a tight grip on my flowers. I was sure beneath my gloves, my knuckles were bleeding out their color from that tight grip of mine. It might be the only thing that kept me from shaking, my steps almost unsteady as I walked towards my father. He would offer his arm to me when I reached his side. I would take it, grateful for his support as we began to climb the stairs.

I wouldn’t get my first look at Lotor until I was at the top of the staircase. He was dressed in an ill fitting suit, some pale lavender tuxedo they had found and modified as best they could to fit his tall frame. The jacket was stretched tight across his broad chest, buttons threatening to pop free at any moment. His long mane of white hair was tied back with a darker purple ribbon, and his expression could be described as sullen as best. I continued to study him, noting his suit looked a bit wrinkled and damp, and one part was discolored though from what I could not tell.

My father would go to stand to the side of Prince Lotor, being an ominous presence over him. He was still wearing his sword belt, his hand resting on the hilt as though he would draw it should Lotor so much as hesitate at saying his vows. To the left of me, would be my mother and the rest of the bridal party. They were all smiling, various degrees of happiness shown in those expressions.

I would stand side by side with Lotor, forcing my attention off of the prince to pay attention to the priest. It was Father Francis, who had been tending to my family for generations and it showed. His hair was a gleaming silver, age lines wrinkling his face. He was actually stooped over with age, but his blue eyes were still clear and shining with intelligence. Even Father Francis did not know the truth behind this wedding, and for that I was glad. I couldn’t have bared for the priest to look at me with disdain for my sins.

I can’t begin to tell you how hard it was to stand there before everyone and lie about my reasons for committing to Lotor. I hid my behind my veil, as though that could protect me from what I was doing as I turned to face Lotor. His eyes were angry, the gold and black not hiding the hostility he radiated. I would hand off my bouquet to my cousin Romelle, allowing Lotor to grasp my now empty hands. I wondered if I imagined the tremble in his hands, the prince working to peel off one of my gloves.

My father would hand the priest the rings, Father Francis casting a blessing over those gold bands. I had no engagement ring. That would come later perhaps, when there was time to pick out a suitable diamond for my ring. For now I would have to settle for the plain bands, the gold gleaming dark around my finger. I would slide a similar ring onto Lotor’s, and speak the vows Father Francis recited for me.

There would be more talk from the priest, Father Francis reading passages out of his book. And then the announcement everyone was waiting for, Father Francis proclaiming Lotor and I to be husband and wife. The gathered group of wedding guests would once again leap to their feet, cheering the success of my union with Lotor. Their cries would almost drown out the priest’s final words, Father Francis smiling kindly as he spoke out words I had been dreading.

“And now….you may kiss the bride.”

I didn’t think Lotor would do it. He certainly hesitated long enough. The guests below us were still celebrating, but keeping an eye on us, It would disappoint them not to see the supposed first kiss between the newlyweds. And yet I grimaced at the mere thought. I had to right my expression into a shy smile when Lotor lifted up my veil. He continued to hesitate, staring at my as he placed his hands on my shoulders.

The guests were too far away to note the challenging look I flashed Lotor’s way. All they could see was a shy bride waiting for her husband to bestow upon her, her first kiss.

It was excruciating, waiting for Lotor to close the distance between us. I wanted this over with, and yet he continued to torment me. It wasn’t anticipation building up in me, it was impatience. Ever so slowly, he brought his mouth to bear on mine. It should have been a chaste brushing of our lips, but I suppose Lotor is incapable of anything so innocent. He made me feel the weight of his lips, the firm, unyielding pressure of his mouth working against mine. I stood as rigid as I dared, forcing myself to be unfeeling, to be unaffected by his kiss. But deep down inside me, where no one could see? I melted just the slightest. It was that melting that left me shaken, my eyes suddenly wet with unshed tears. I hadn’t wanted to like his kiss, and I hated myself for that wanting.

Lotor finally broke the kiss, pulling back with an unreadable expression to his face. Had he been anywhere as unaffected as I had tried to be? Had he felt nothing when kissing me? Just as I had meant nothing when he had bedded me? I suddenly felt sick, and only felt even worse when I heard him whisper to me in a sarcastic tone. “So now what?”

So now what indeed. I didn’t know, just turning to face the excited crowed with a frozen smile on my face. There would be drinking and feasting now, and even dancing. We would hold a small party to celebrate the marriage, but all I wanted was to go off and be by myself. But I knew there would be no chance for alone time, even once the party was over. And all because I would now be sharing a bedroom with Prince Lotor, my husband.

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