Better Worse 20

There wasn’t much I had to say to Allura after my shower. I was still too upset, too disappointed over the news she had revealed to me, the latest of my plans foiled before they could even truly form. I shouldn’t have been surprised though. Alfor truly was a cunning man, crafty and calculating every possible move I might make. Of course he would foresee the possibilities a honeymoon vacation would have given me. Possibilities he had quickly moved to neutralize, by canceling the entire trip rather than risk me slipping free of my leash.

This made me as angry as I was disappointed, my frustrations mounting. I wanted so badly to get away, both from Allura and her family, and from the consequences of my actions. I wasn’t yet ready to accept the responsibilities of getting Allura pregnant, of shouldering the burdens of married life. I wanted my freedom, wanted to return to that almost care free life of the roving playboy I had once been.

The cancellation of the honeymoon wouldn’t stop me from making new plans. I didn’t yet know what form my next escape attempt would take, but I was determined to not lay back and accept what was being done to me. It was too bad for me that I was up against a formidable opponent, and all but penniless at the moment thanks to my father’s meddling.

The fact that my father had frozen my assets ranked on a level different from what Alfor was doing. Where Allura’s father took my insults to his daughter as personal, my father saw it all as nothing more than a business transaction. He might even be amused by what was going on, especially now that the threat to the Doom Empire seemed at an end. I could just imagine the laugh Zarkon was having at my expense, the man doing everything possible to aid Alfor under the claims of keeping peace between Arus and Doom.

It was infuriating, and more than anything I thought my father an eager to please coward. I was shocked by the lengths he would go to, to avoid warring with Alfor. But more than that, I was convinced that if I could somehow escape Arus and make my return to Doom, I would be able to calm my father’s fears, and sway him to my point of view. And if I couldn’t gain his support, there were other ways of dealing with Zarkon. Ways that were permanent, leaving me to imagine myself taking hold of the King’s crown.

But I couldn’t lose myself to fantasies of ruling in Zarkon’s place. Not yet at any rate. I was stuck dealing with my unpleasant reality, and my most immediate concern was somehow getting through another encounter with Allura’s family. It wasn’t just Allura’s parents I had to deal with now. It seemed every branch of that large and extended family was still present inside the castle, and all were gathering for the first meal of the day.

Allura and I would find ourselves outside the great banquet hall, the room the only one big enough to fit in all of Allura’s family and the nobles that were visiting. There were several tables to choose from, Allura’s family seated at the largest. A meal was already being enjoyed, silverware scraping plates clean as several went in for seconds and thirds.

There was a low murmur of conversation, people speaking quietly to those nearest them. It wasn’t as noisy as the reception meal had been, as though many were still too hung over to tolerate loud sound. I could sympathize, my own hangover making me sensitive to light and sound.

Allura and I weren’t immediately noticed. There were other people coming and going from the banquet hall, predominately servants, but a few others who were late comers to the meal. Allura and I would receive a few odd looks from those other new arrivals, and then conversation would slowly stop. I felt the eyes of the room on us, and instantly knew that everyone here had found out about last night. A part of me wondered what possible angle Alfor could have spun to cover what had happened, while the rest of me just didn’t give a damn.

Allura didn’t freeze up or hesitate at being the pointed focus of attention. She continued forward, heading towards the empty chairs located near her parent’s seats. I followed a step behind her, unease prickling my skin. There was something more unsettling happening than just her family all but glaring at me. It was Avok, the prince rising from his seat to come towards me. His sister, the princess Romelle, immediately sprang out of her seat, hurrying after her brother with an alarmed expression on her face.

“Brother, don’t do anything you’ll regret…”

Avok ignored her, his emerald gaze bright with anger. I was tensing up, but my reaction time was still just a little too slow. I blamed it on being hungover, my cheek catching the brunt of Avok’s fist. I actually stumbled back, my hand grabbing hold of the back of someone’s chair. It was the only thing that kept me from ending up on the floor, my grip on the chair righting my stumble.

“Bastard!” sneered Avok, his lip curling with his disgust.

“Avok!” Romelle cried out at the same exact moment of her brother’s curse.

I didn’t give Avok the satisfaction of touching my hurting face. Instead I narrowed my own gaze at him, thinking how the prince would have been a dead man if not for the subduing device implanted inside me. Even with the knowledge of what would happen, it was still a struggle to control my murderous rage. I ached to retaliate, to bring down Avok to the floor even at the cost to me. I’d actually take a step towards him, my own hands curling into fists when Allura stepped between us.

“That is enough!” She said, while her cousin Romelle made a valiant show of grabbing at her brother’s arm. Avok shrugged free of Romelle, but didn’t advance any closer to me. His glare still on me, he spoke to Allura now.

“That is hardly enough. I demand satisfaction!” He was still sneering, but his anger couldn’t compare to the rage festering inside me.

“If anything, I am the one who should be demanding that!” I snapped out. “How low of you, prince! Attacking out of nowhere like that! But then, that IS a coward’s favored tactic.”

Avok’s anger boiled over, Romelle again making a grab for him. It was Allura’s hand on her cousin’s chest, that stopped the prince from reaching for me. I didn’t help matters, curling my own lip into a sneer. “You wouldn’t have the guts to face me in a fair fight.” It wasn’t as satisfying as hitting him, but I enjoyed taunting him all the same.

“That’s where you’re wrong!” Avok retorted. “For the sake of my honor and Allura’s, I demand you duel with me!”

Interest colored my expression, but it was quickly squelched by the memory of the subduing device. With it, I would have no chance to fight Avok, no chance to do any true and lasting damage to the prince. Hell, it wouldn’t even be a fair fight, the damn device most likely bringing me down before I could do more than form a fist. A helpless anger filled me. I didn’t like that I was so limited, didn’t like that I couldn’t teach Avok a lesson.

I must have shown some form of hesitation, for Avok gave me a ruthless look. “Will you honor the duel’s demand, or are you too scared to fight with me?”

Conversation was resuming, clipped voices speaking on the odds and who they would favor to win. Not many sided with me, some actually daring to speculate that Avok might be the better warrior! I bristled at that, longing to show them all how wrong they were. About Avok, about me, about their suppositions that Arusians made better fighters than Drule warriors.

“Don’t be absurd.” I finally said. I gave him a patronizing smile. “It would hardly be a fair fight. I would wipe the floor with you, and we all know it.”

“You are making excuses.” Avok retorted. “I will have none of them. Fight me now, fight me later, but you WILL fight me.”

“Avok, really…there is no need…” Allura was protesting. “I am fine.” He tried to shush her, but she would not be silenced. “Lotor got a little out of hand last night, but that was the drink to be blamed, not him.”

“Do not make excuses for him!” Snapped Avok with more force than either princess thought was appropriate. “Drink or no, he should never have brought such insult to you!” His glare deepened, Avok addressing me now. “And you! You should have controlled yourself! Where drink and my cousin are both concerned. How dare you make a mockery of her wedding night! How dare you act in such a way as to make my cousin feel so threatened, she had to have you removed to the castle dungeons!”

My jaw clenched, and then I was snapping back a retort. “What goes on between my WIFE and I, is none of your business.”

“Allura is and always will be my cousin. That doesn’t change just because you married her!” exclaimed Avok. “If you attempt to hurt her, in any way, no matter how little or insignificant it seems, I will pay you back ten fold! It’s up to you whether we settle this here and now, or later in gentlemanly combat.”

I actually snorted then, amused at the thought that any type of combat could be considered gentlemanly. Avok seethed in response to that sound I made, but was otherwise quiet.

“I’m not going to fight you.” I finally said. “You aren’t worth my time, or interest for that.” I gave him an insolent look, and spoke words that set him over the edge. “I don’t bother with weaklings or cowards…and I certainly don’t bother with meddlesome fools who seek to interfere and dictate what I should and should not do in my marriage. Allura is my wife, and it’s high time she accept that, and do the things that are expected of a Drule’s woman.”

I wasn’t as crude as I could have been, but the implication was there. I was making it known that I expected Allura to act as my wife and have sex with me. It surely made the gossips wonder if that was what had really led to my imprisonment in the dungeon.

I expected Avok to strike me in retaliation, but it was Allura’s hand that slapped my already aching cheek. I’m surprised Avok didn’t laugh at that, but the room went quiet save for Romelle’s gasp.

“Don’t” Allura said, her hand still raised as though she would slap me a second time. It seemed to be trembling from the restraint needed to keep from hitting me immediately, Allura’s blue eyes as angry as she was red faced. “You will do no further insult. To me, to our marriage, or to my family. This wasn’t a love match. It was a means to an end, a political arrangement to keep the situation between our worlds from entering into a life costing war. You do not get to dictate to me my behaviors, nor my desires. And you certainly do not get to expect things from me.” She gave a bitter look then. “Just as I do not expect things from you at this point and time….”

I stared at her, Avok momentarily forgotten. And all because of the absurdity of what she said. The truth of the matter was she did expect things from me, and so did her parents. Otherwise I wouldn’t have been forced into this marriage in the first place.

“Allura….that is complete and utter bullshit and you know it.” It wasn’t just about the sex, though that played a huge part in it. It was about everything, including the appearances we had to keep up where conceiving a child was concerned. We HAD to appear as though we were accepting of the situation, accepting of it enough to have a sexual relationship. Otherwise no one would believe the child Allura carried had been conceived AFTER the wedding.

“Do not talk to her like that!” Avok’s protests was a snapped out reminder of his presence. Allura and I both chose to ignore him.

“There’s been expectations placed on me, on you, on the both of us ever since this marriage was announced.” I continued. “Our union was to end a war in the making. But that’s not the only duty expected of us.”

“What are you talking about?” Allura demanded.

“Peace between our planets depend on this marriage, on the strength of it. If it falls apart, so does the truce. Just getting married isn’t enough. We’re expected to do more than tolerate each other, we’re expected to work to make the marriage succeed. To make it healthy, and to keep it flourishing and fruitful.” My words were deliberate, Allura paling as she got my meaning. Her hand lowered, and somehow she managed not to touch her belly.

It was deliberate and cruel, and more than a little manipulative. For I had no real interest in keeping the marriage together, nor in upholding the peace between our worlds. I would run at the first available opportunity, and I wouldn’t just end the marriage if I succeeded. I would set out to continue the fighting between our worlds, though not in order to capture Arus. My motivations had changed, my desire simply to revenge myself on Alfor for the indignities done me these last few days.

“You may be able to sway my cousin with such talk….” Avok was saying. “But not me! My demand still stands, and not even threat of a war will get me to retract my challenge.”

“Are you that eager to be humiliated by me?” I demanded.

“If anything I think you are eager to avoid being beaten by me.” Avok retorted.

I snorted. “I would wipe the floor with your face, and we both know it.” I was confidant too, positive I would win under normal circumstances.

“Then prove it.” Avok said. “Face me in a fight with weapons of your choosing.”

Damn but I wanted too! But that subduing device had me hesitating, fearful that such an activity would trigger it’s electric zaps. Avok let out a soft scoff of sound, then turned his back to me in a dismissive gesture. “You are as big a coward as you claim we Arusians are.”

Allura was watching, as I curled my hands into fists that were powerless to do anything. She knew as well as I, why I did not act, why I did not attack Avok right then and there. Nor could we explain to Avok the reason for my inactivity. I was left with no alternative but to allow the prince, to allow everyone present save for Allura and her parents, to think me that big a coward. And it infuriated me!

I no longer had an appetite. Nor could I stomach the idea of spending time with these people. Without a word, without even a nod Allura’s way, I turned. She didn’t call out after me, and I doubt she even stood watching me stalk away. Nor did she try to follow me, the footsteps that came after me, heavier in step so that I knew it was no woman that approached.

I didn’t think it was Avok come to make good on his threat. And still my back stiffened, my pace slowing when Alfor said my name. I all but snarled at him, the single word spoken angry.

“WHAT?!”

“I am beginning to think there is no end to the disappointments you can give me.” It was too much for me. I spun on my heel, eyes surely blazing as I turned to glare at Alfor. He was hardly cowed by the anger in my eyes, the man stiff with his tension and displeasure.

“You and your daughter are in for a lifetime of disappointments if you continue to insist we play out this farce of a marriage!”

“But play it out you must.” Alfor reminded me. “For my daughter’s sake and the child she carries.” He had lowered his voice for that last sentence, taking extra care not to broadcast Allura’s condition. We were all but alone in the hall, with only two guards down at the other end, and still Alfor worked to protect his daughter’s honor from any chance passerby.

I grumbled inaudibly under my breath, but was otherwise without comment. What could I say that wouldn’t set Alfor off towards creating even more inventive torments for me? Certainly the truth wouldn’t have helped matters. Alfor hardly needed to hear I gave not one wit of care towards Allura’s honor, or towards the sake of the child we had conceived together.

“Last night cannot be repeated.” Alfor continued.

“Tell that to your daughter.” I quickly interjected. “She has duties now, obligations to me…”

“Being married to Allura, doesn’t give you the right to mistreat her!” Alfor snapped, eyes narrowing into a fierce glare. I opened my mouth to protest, to deny what had happened had been anything but mistreatment. Alfor quickly talked over me, never losing that angry look in his eyes. “I heard all about what happened.”

“No doubt Allura came running to you first thing this morning.” I grumbled.

“Allura hadn’t needed to.” Alfor replied. “The guards that carried you down to the dungeons gave an adequate report of what they had witnessed.” A shrewd, ruthless look then. “If my daughter had chosen to tell me the details of what went on before the guards’ arrival, there’s little doubt in my mind that you wouldn’t be standing here in one piece.”

“For trying to take what is my husbandly right?” I demanded in disbelief.

Alfor snorted in response. “You have little rights left to you at this time. You certainly don’t have the right to demand Allura be intimate with you, after all you did and tried to do.”

“But…!”

“No. Just as you have to earn back certain freedoms, you’ll have to work to earn back my daughter’s favor.” His look was not pitying in the least. “Though I dare say it’s all but impossible on that end, after the way you mistreated Allura.”

“You do realize, this marriage is as much torture for Allura as it is for me?” I asked him. He gave a hesitant nod. “And yet you willingly tied her to a man she can’t stand. Are you that determined to punish Allura for the mistakes she made with me?!” Alfor looked startled at that. “She’ll only continue to suffer as my wife….” I was trying a new tactic, trying to work on what little insecurity he might have. “She’ll never be happy with me. Allura is a woman who deserves to be loved and love in return….she’ll never be satisfied being tied to a man she loathes….a man she can barely tolerate…” I continue to prey on the doubt I thought I saw in his eyes. “She may even come to resent YOU one day, for tying her to me.”

“My daughter carefully weighed her options.” Alfor retorted. “You seemed the best choice out of a realm of unappealing possibilities.” He shook his head then, seeming to shrug off his doubt and uncertainties. “And you are charged with seeing to and maintaining her happiness regardless of the cost to you.”

“Oh yes….” My words were sarcastic then. “It will be ever so easy to keep her happy without love between us.”

“You didn’t love her the night you preyed on her trust and innocence!” Alfor snapped back. “And yet you put on a convincing enough show to trick her into doing exactly what you wanted.”

“It didn’t take much guile.” I retorted. “Allura saw and believed what she wanted of me. Now, her eyes have been opened to the truth….”

“She’ll be harder to lie to.” Alfor said knowingly.

“You should thank me Alfor.” He gave me a disbelieving look. “I gave your daughter a valuable lesson.”

“Your lesson cost more than either one of us wants to pay.” Alfor told me. “Allura would have been better off without that kind of life experience.”

“She needed to grow up eventually.” I pointed out.

“But it needn’t have been done with such cruelty.” Alfor retorted.

I gave a casual shrug. “If she had been Drule, she would have learned about the cruelties of life years ago.”

“Try to spin it however you want, but what you did to my daughter was more disservice than favor.” Alfor told me. “It’s only fitting you spend your life trying to make up for it.”

My jaw clenched at that. “I don’t see how wasting the best years of my life here on Arus is balances out one night of sin!”

“But it wasn’t just one night, was it?” Alfor challenged me. “You didn’t just leave it at sleeping with my daughter…You tried to blackmail the royal house of Arus for control of this planet. You were prepared to publicly humiliate my daughter! You shamed her, and you continue to bring embarrassment to her with your repeated attempts to escape and demands for sex. You have a lot to make up for, Lotor. I suggest you get to work on making your amends.”

He then turned from me, but not before I saw the brilliant blaze of anger in his eyes. I wonder if the anger in my own gaze matched his, and I called out after him. “I can’t live this way! I can’t be what you want me to be for your daughter! And if you’d stop being stubborn for just one minute, you’d realize that too!” Alfor kept on walking, not even sparing a single backwards glance my way. My hands formed fists at my side, but I refused to trail after him and continue a hopeless argument. I didn’t know how to make Alfor understand, Allura and I weren’t right for each other. We might never be. How could I get him to not only acknowledge that, but accept it enough to abandon this marriage? I just didn’t know, and that left me all the more agitated and depressed.


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