Better Worse 17

It was done. Allura and I were wed now, tied together with the invisible bonds of marriage. I swear I can feel the coils of her leash tightening around me, and I want to scream. To snarl and rant, and vent my anger upon the people gathered here. The guests whose happiness make a mockery of my misery. I want to erupt into violence, subduing device be damned. I want the satisfaction of smashing my fists into someone’s face, to feel bone breaking under my blows. And yet I had to keep smiling, keep pretending I was happy for what had happened.

I was not. No matter how much I smiled, the expression never reached my eyes. My anger showed too completely. It didn’t have all to do with the fact that I had just been married. Some of it had to do with my failure to escape, and to stop this wedding from happening. Two days hadn’t given me enough time to plan, but I had tried my best. And when that didn’t work, I had let desperation guide my movements.

Even now I wore the remnants of that desperation. My tuxedo was still damp, wet from my earlier attempt at flight. The velvet fabric clung wetly to me, but it was no longer so soaked as to make squelching sounds with my every movement. I was still miserable, wet and a bit cold. Hurting from my failed attempt, and the bruises to my ego.

It had happened less than an hour ago. I had been in the process of being escorted to the ball room where the ceremony would take place. The amount of body guards had been heavy, the soldiers clustered around me. They had been alert should I try anything this late in the game. And yet an unexpected demand took them by surprise. I told them I had to use the facilities, insisting on stopping in the nearest first floor bathroom. They had little choice but to let me, the soldiers remaining outside the room as I set out to do my business.

But I had not needed the use of a bathroom, not in the way they had thought. I had spent the previous day scouting out the rooms on the first floor, learning what windows led to where, and how big. This bathroom had a window that was big enough to just barely allow me to fit through. It was this window I would use, which opened up onto a pathway that was often only used by the servants to transport things from one part of the castle to another.

It wasn’t currently being used, most of the servants gathered in the ball room for the wedding. Those who weren’t watching the proceedings, were on standby to serve the guests, or waiting for when the ceremony was over, and the ball room would be transformed for the reception. I didn’t expect to run into anyone, didn’t think anything would be delivered to the castle on this day. I was right about that, traveling the servant’s path unhindered, and never dawdling. I simply couldn’t afford the time to do anything more than run, knowing at any moment the guards might become suspicious and check the bathroom for me.

It was raining as I navigated the path outside the castle. I was thoroughly drenched within seconds. I didn’t care, running as fast as I could, worrying how much time I had left before they activated the tracking device in my arm. I think I only had minutes, but I covered the ground well. I made it to the empty castle gardens, passing by the very gazebo I had deflowered Allura within. It was the first time I had returned to that place, and I surely scowled at the sight of it.

My scowl would only deepen as I heard shouts, men and women running towards the garden from all directions. I’d run, though I knew it was futile. The hedge walls of the garden were still too high for my to scale in time. I wouldn’t even get a chance to start my climb, to even near the walls that separated the castle from the forest. A guard would tackle me from behind, bringing me face down to the grass.

I wanted to struggle, to lash out with my arm. It was petty, but it would have been oh so satisfying to give an elbow to the face of the man who had tackled me. But I was wary of the device in me, of what would happen if the rain and the electrical currents mixed. It took an extraordinary amount of self restraint not to give in to my urges of violence. Especially with the guards being none too gentle, as they handcuffed my arms behind my back, and hauled me to my feet.

It wouldn’t have done for the guests to catch sight of me in restraints. The guards would take me down the servant’s path, sneak me back into the castle, and into an empty room. Alfor and the wedding coordinator would arrive, Malenia pitching a fit to see my disheveled state. I’d be ordered to take a quick shower, Malenia and a few of the maids working desperately to dry my tuxedo. It was almost comical to watch the women attack the tuxedo with multiple hair dryers, but it got the job done. The tuxedo was no longer so soaked, though it was still damp enough to be uncomfortable.

They couldn’t get out the grass stains completely. Nor could they smooth out it’s wrinkled state. Malenia would still be fussing over the state of my clothing, even as the ceremony was delayed. Alfor would have some choice words to say to me, but I didn’t care. I had heard all his threats and uttered disappointments before.

I think Malenia would have kept on fussing over my appearance to the point the wedding would have been delayed for hours. But then Diana, Allura’s mother, would appear, concerned over the delay. She would not look amused to hear of my antics, actually giving me a disapproving look. I was insolent as I gazed back at her, shrugging as if to say what else had you expected me to do?

Diana would get the wedding moving, Alfor and the guards taking me to the ball room. Not all the faces I saw inside the room were friendly towards me. It appeared hostilities still ran deep for some in response to the attacks my fleet had launched against Arus. Some might even object to the thought of my marrying their princess, even if they understood the necessity of maintaining peace between our kingdoms.

I can’t say I was waiting that long for Allura and her bridesmaids to appear. Not when everyone was intent on rushing us down the aisle. But for all their haste, the actual ceremony was slow. It lasted for nearly an hour, the priest droning on and on. A slow agony for me to stand there, seething in anger, gritting my teeth in an attempt to bear the boredom and upset I felt.

When the priest spoke the words that officially proclaimed Allura and I to be husband and wife, the guests began cheering. Even the ones who had glared at me with open hostility were celebrating. There seemed to be an air of relief, a tension leaving Alfor and Diana. And why wouldn’t they relax? The wedding was done with, the marriage official. But as far as I was concerned, this was not the end of it. Not where my freedom was concerned.

But I wouldn’t get a chance to make plans right now. Not when Allura and I had appearances to live up to. Even as the servants hurried to transform the ball room, the guests were gathering at the foot of the stairs. As the rows upon rows of benches were removed, the servants laboring to bring in enough tables to comfortably seat everyone, Allura and I were walking down the stairs. Ready to greet our guests together in our first official act as husband and wife.

Allura’s smile was as feigned as mine, her eyes betraying her upset. But no one thought to outright question the princess on her upset, nor was I asked why my eyes were so angry. I supposed to some, they knew this wasn’t a marriage that either party had wanted. We had never claimed it to be a love match, always hiding behind the political reasons of easing tensions between Doom and Arus. I would not be surprised if some of the women privately expressed their understanding at Allura being trapped in such an undesirable union with one such as I.

Allura held onto my arm as we greeted each and every guest. It was all a lot of meaningless chatter, people sharing their congratulations, whether they be real or feigned. I didn’t even bother to learn the names of the people being introduced to me, I was that uncaring of the social network of Arus. I don’t remember much of what I said, just nodding my head and shaking hands. I was in desperate need of a drink, but the meet and greet would take nearly an hour’s time to finish.

By the time we were done, the ball room had finished it’s transformation. There were many tables to dine at, and even a spot on the floor for some dancing. The buffet tables against the wall were covered with fine cuisine. We would be waited on by the servants of the castle, men and women bringing over our meals. The room filled with the combined chatter of dozens upon dozens of voices, the buzz of conversation loud and only growing more so as food and drink flowed freely.

I of course, was seated at the center most table with my wife Allura. For once we were seated side by side, but it did not matter that I wasn’t sitting by myself. No matter who was besides me, I was alone, left to field the questions and curiosities of Allura’s family. It wasn’t just Alfor and Diana I now had to face. There was aunts, uncles, and cousins present at our table.

The conversation here was no more stilted than anywhere else in the room, the women quick to talk about the wedding. To comment on how beautiful a bride Allura had made, how pretty her gown had turned out. These women were content to discuss every last detail, from the decorations to the food being served. It was downright boring to me! I continued to busy our table’s waiter by having him constantly refilling my glass with wine. It was drink I was taking solace in, picking at my food almost as much as Allura picked at hers.

For a time, it seemed the men at our table were content to merely listen to the women talk. We all sat there, I with my drink, and they focused on their meals. Did any of them even notice Allura and I had yet to exchange a single word since sitting down? Why we barely even looked at each other, sitting close but as far apart from each other as our hearts were.

I was building myself up to a good brooding session, miserable and recounting in my mind all the set backs and failures that had led to my entrapment. Somehow I managed not to sigh out loud, staring sullenly into my glass. The women’s chatter had been going on for quite some time now, the second and third courses of our meal having been delivered. Some of the men had had enough of the meals, setting down their utensils to start chattering with their neighbors. They did not speak about the wedding in the way the women had. No, they were more concerned with congratulating Alfor on diverting a war.

“Good match, good match.” One of the older men, some uncle of Allura’s, said approvingly. “The last thing we needed was a long, drawn out war.”

“Indeed!” Agreed another. “I, as I’m sure the rest of the people of Arus are, am glad we were able to settle this without it escalating any further. Peace is infinitely better to all that fighting…”

I had already had several cups of wine in me, but I don’t think that made me any bolder than I normally was. I lifted my gaze to Allura’s uncles, my eyes surely challenging. “Do you say that because you are cowards? That you fear defeat at my people’s hands?”

The women were still talking, though their voices seemed to fade out as the men all looked at me in cold reaction. “The people of Arus are no cowards.” One man said. I couldn’t help but smirk back.

“Then perhaps it is their rulers?” That drew a gasp, even the women were now looking at me. “How else would you explain your King’s willingness to form a new alliance, rather than engage in war with Doom?” It was an unfair question. These people weren’t privy to the true reason behind Alfor’s actions. They didn’t know what I had done to Allura, how I had tried to seize their planet through blackmail.

“I don’t have to explain it.” Said one of the men, tone and body having grown stiff. “Besides, if anything you and your people should be grateful for King Alfor’s willingness in that regard.”

“Oh really?” I took a prolonged sip of my drink. “Funny. I don’t feel very grateful!”

“Prince Lotor.” Alfor snapped sharply. But another man was talking, one not as old looking as Allura’s uncles.

“Perhaps YOU are NOT. But I am sure your father, and your people certainly appreciate my uncle’s benevolence.” He said. He had reddish orange hair, trimmed short. His green eyes blazed with anger. “After all, your Empire would be ruined, many of your people dead if they had gone to fight against us.” He slowly smirked as he gazed at me, my own lips fighting not to scowl in response.

“Your people would have died too!” I retorted.

“Not anywhere as many as you Drule.” This young man replied as I made scoffing sounds. “Was it not your own private fleet that was so decimated? By not even half of our own forces?!”

I angrily set down my glass, liquid sloshing violently about inside it. “That was a miscalculation! They were unprepared! Fresh recruits from the Academy. I’d like to see how Arus would fare against seasoned veterans of the Drule military!” This man was smirking, liking how worked up I was getting. I couldn’t allow it, trying to turn the tables on him. “But of course, you Arusians are too frightened to go up against real warriors.”

“Why you…”

The blonde sitting next to him, a cousin of Allura’s I vaguely remembered from one summer seven years ago, touched the red head’s arm. “Avok, don’t let Prince Lotor bait you so.”

“But Romelle…” protested this Avok. “He speaks slander against us!”

“It’s no slander I say.” I interjected with a smirk. Avok’s eyes were even angrier, an intense emerald color that would have burned holes in me if they could have. “I have seen no proof, no reason to believe Arus could ever stand up to the full might of the Doom Empire!”

“And you are not going to, any time soon, Lotor.” Alfor snapped at me. “We’ve averted a war, a war that could have been ruinous to both our kingdoms.”

“Ruinous?!” I arched a brow at Allura’s father. “From all your boasts, one would think Arus had nothing to lose from a war with Doom.”

“It’s true our losses would be less than the Empire’s, but even one life is too much a price to pay.” Alfor replied. “None of our people, the mothers, the fathers, the families, want to send their sons and daughters off to fight a war.”

“Cowards.’ I sneered, and went to take another drink. Only to find my glass angry. I went to signal the waiter to come forward with a refill, but a hand closed over the top of my glass.

“I think you’ve had enough.” It was Allura who dared speak to me. I turned my glare on her.

“I will decide when and where is enough.”

“Allura is right.” Alfor insisted. “You’re drinking far more than you should.”

“What would you know of it?” I demanded. “A Drule can handle a lot more than what I’ve already had!” I jerked the glass from out from beneath Allura’s hand. She frowned at me, displeased. The conversations continued at the other tables, no one aware of the scene being made at the royal family’s table.

“Still, I must insist you put a curb on your drinking.” Alfor said. “You wouldn’t want to ruin this day completely for Allura.”

The eyes of the table glanced at Alfor’s daughter. Even I looked, curious as to what expression she wore. Allura couldn’t manage a smile, the girl going for a neutral look as though that would not betray her upset.

“I am fine. Really.” Insisted Allura. “We all know this isn’t a love match. That the tensions between our kingdom necessitated the need for this marriage. Prince Lotor is coping as best he can, even if I disapprove of the way he chooses to voice his displeasure.”

“He could choose a less boorish way to do so!” sniffed a haughty woman whose name I was sure was Orla. She looked at me, her blue eyes unfriendly and cold. “Not all of us have married for love. And yet most of us, have managed to conduct ourselves and our marriages in dignity and restraint.”

“That’s right.” Agreed another woman. “Not only that, we respect our partners, and ourselves! We don’t let drink make us foolish, and abusive.”

I was glaring, angry at what they had said. And even more so when Alfor resumed speaking. “You are young, Lotor. You have much to learn. About wars, about kingdoms, and about respectful relationships.”

“Can he really be taught though?” wondered Avok with a smirk. He was on the verge of saying something more, something that was sure to be insulting when Romelle pinched his side. “Ow! Romelle!?”

She ignored him, smiling at me. “I am sure Prince Lotor and Allura can both learn a few things. And who knows! Maybe this union could develop into something more than a political match…”

“Ah my cousin…ever the dreamer…” Allura said fondly, though her eyes looked sad now.

“There’s nothing wrong with dreaming!” insisted Romelle. “Especially if you can make those dreams come true!” She didn’t look put off by the gentle laughter of the gathered group, the family looking affectionately at Romelle. She glanced at me. “You will try, won’t you your highness?” Such a hopeful look, as though Romelle had a vested interest in my marriage to Allura.

I didn’t try to answer right away, sullen and wanting more to drink. I could feel the weight of everyone’s stare, Alfor’s especially, as they waited for my answer. I knew what Alfor wanted me to say. After all the man had insisted I try to make his daughter happy. So far I was doing a smashing job of just the opposite. But this was perhaps the only way I could really rebel, and not end up writhing on the floor, fried by the electricity the device in my arm put out.

I was about to say something else that was insolent, when an excited female voice spoke from behind me. “Okay everyone! Big smiles!” Tensing, I turned just in time to see lights go off and blind me. I growled, even as I heard the voice complaining. “Prince Lotor, you didn’t smile!”

It was that infernal wedding coordinator, Malenia escorting a young man with a camera. The camera seemed to be of professional quality grade, lights blindingly brilliant as he snapped pictures at a rapid pace. Malenia was still talking, trying to harass me into smiling. It wasn’t just a smile she was after, urging me to put my arm around Allura and look happy for the camera.

The woman was a nuisance. One I could barely tolerate. I did as she asked, but only to end this ordeal and have her away from me. She’d take many pictures, and not just of my bride and I. The whole family would be photographed, and even later we would have to pose for a ridiculous amount of time in various other spots of the ball room, and even out in the gardens.

But before the hour long photography session, there would be other wedding traditions to uphold. The cutting of the cake, the first official dance of the newlyweds. Even awkward speeches made by the friends and family of the bride and groom. I felt all alone during this, even when they announced a special surprise for me. A holo unit was brought into the ball room, ready to transmit a hologram straight from planet Doom. I could only scowl as my father appeared in the center of the room, relaxed on his throne as he gazed at me.

“Lotor, my son….I think you will find marriage suits you.” I growled a response under my breath, but it was too soft for anyone to understand. It didn’t stop them from shushing me, all eyes on Zarkon’s hologram. “This is the start of a great new chapter in Arus and Doom’s history. We are forging new roads, new alliances. One that will lead to and maintain peace between our kingdoms.”

The crowd of guests all cheered the idea of peace between Doom and Arus. My scowl only deepened. “Lotor and Allura….through your union, Arus and Doom will be forever connected. Allies for as long as your blood sits on the thrones. It is my fondest wish, and the wish of the Empire, that your union be fruitful, your reign and your children’s reigns long lasting.” He lifted up a goblet in toast, the people in the ball room doing the same with their glasses. “To Prince Lotor and Princess Allura! Long may they live, long may they be happy!”

I wanted to throw something at him, and knew I didn’t stand a chance of hurting a holographic projection. I would only make a fool of myself, and hint to the other guests how displeased I was with my marriage to Allura. And still I seethed, fuming in my seat. I kept on thinking how I would make everyone pay for what they had done to me, never putting any of the blame on myself. My mood only worsened as I endured more speeches, people far more heartfelt when they talked about the marriage than Zarkon had been.

I couldn’t wait for the day’s farce to end. I think Allura felt the same way, or maybe it was just her pregnancy catching up to her. She had begun excusing herself from the ball room, saying she needed air or to touch up her make up. No doubt she was hurrying off to the nearest bathroom, and I only wished I could be as easily excused as she. I wanted to leave and never return, and yet couldn’t. Not with Alfor and the guards keeping such a close watch on me.

I couldn’t even take a blasted drink to soothe my foul mood! The waiters and waitresses had all been given explicit orders to deny me wine. It didn’t stop me from trying. I’d march determinedly towards one of the buffet tables, intent on a bottle there. Only to find my arm caught by Allura’s mother, Diana leading me away from the wine and onto the dance floor.

I was stiff and awkward with Diana in my arms. A light went off in the distance, someone snapping a photo of us for the wedding album. For the longest time Diana and I said nothing, the woman just studying me with concerned eyes.

“What?” I said, when I could not take her stare any longer.

“I know you’re upset.” She began, ignoring the rude snort I let out. Upset didn’t begin to cover how I felt! “I know this is not the marriage you would have made for yourself if you had had any choice. But you must TRY to make the best of it.”

“Why?” I demanded. “Because your husband will punish me if I don’t?”

“No.” Diana shook her head. “Because you will be miserable if you continue the way you are.” Her eyes were sad then, blue turning darker. “You and my daughter will suffer needlessly. And all because of foolish pride and hurt feelings.”

“If we suffer, it is your husband’s fault.” I retorted. “It is Alfor who forced this marriage.”

“You would have preferred to remain imprisoned to wedding my daughter?” Diana inquired. That drew me up short. I didn’t like the thought of spending my life in a cell, but wasn’t marriage to Allura just another prison?

“What is the difference?” I finally asked. “I’ve traded one chain for another…I have no freedoms left to me.”

“This won’t always be the case.” Diana told me. “In time, you’ll find allowances will be made…”

“Oh allowances?” I repeated mockingly. “Tell me…will I ever be allowed outside the castle? Without guards to watch me? Without this device in my arm tracking my every move?!”

“I think that is all dependent upon you.” Diana answered. “You find your freedoms restricted, but it is nothing that you didn’t bring upon yourself. If you hadn’t thought to use my daughter, and in so cruel a manner, none of this would have happened. You and Allura would still be friends, the men and women who died fighting your battle would still be alive…” I flinched at that, Diana hitting a low point in reminding me that my friends and allies had died because of my ambitions.

“We can’t change the past…” She continued. “But we can affect our future and our present. And not just ours, but those involved with us. You and Allura will be parents. You have a responsibility to that child, as well as to my daughter. But also to yourself. Try for happiness Lotor. It is far better to live your life happy, than to spend it miserable and tormenting others.”

With that she pulled out of my arms, curtsying briefly to signal our dance was at an end. She smiled that faint smile at me, then moved to join Alfor elsewhere on the dance floor. It was clear Diana thought she had given me much to think about, and indeed she had. But I was still blinded by my anger, and more than a little drunk for her words to do any good. When my eyes met the newly returned Allura’s gaze, I glared at her a moment, before stalking back to our table.

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