Better Worse 21

I listened to the sound of Lotor’s retreat, the prince taking care to stomp his feet as an exaggerated show of his anger. I felt that same anger, though it was born of a reason different from the ones Lotor had. Lotor continued to feel powerless, the prince wanting to lash out and unable to truly do anything to improve his situation. He couldn’t accept life on Arus, or the marriage that tied us together. Nor could he succeed in escaping, his assets frozen, his every move watched, even his emotions kept a careful eye on.

My cousin Avok surely hadn’t helped matters, his challenge to Lotor reminding the Drule prince of how he could not truly fight, not even to defend what little honor he had. It had to be infuriating to Lotor to be thought of as a coward by Avok and the people present in this room. I could not sympathize, nor did I take any true satisfaction out of what was troubling Lotor this time.

Nor could I plaster on a fake smile, or stop from shaking with anger as I faced my family and the nobles who had been present for Lotor and Avok’s exchange. It wasn’t just the scene between Avok and Lotor that affected me so. It was the knowledge that all present now knew what had happened the night before. They might not be privy to the exact details of Lotor’s removal to the dungeons, but they now knew enough to crudely speculate. If I burst into tears now, it would only fuel the fires of their gossip. Lotor and I had done enough damage to our marriage’s reputation, and I shuddered to think how much worse things could become.

Avok had yet to return to his seat, pacing angrily the length of the table. His fists were clenched, muscles flexing in his arms as he moved. Seconds after Lotor’s abrupt exit from the room, my father would hurry after him when it became apparent I would not. I felt awful to leave the situation to my father, but right then and there, nothing and no one could get me to chase after Lotor.

“Allura…” My cousin Romelle was looking at me with a concerned expression in her eyes. Her face was pale, as though the shock of what had transpired had leeched out all the color from her cheeks. Romelle was surely disturbed by what she had witnessed, her own dreams of a happy ending for me quickly being crushed. “Are you…?”

“I am fine.” I was more curt than I should have been with my cousin. But at the moment I couldn’t bare her upset in addition to mine. Especially when Romelle was so ignorant of the true problems of my relationship with Lotor. An ignorance I hoped that she, that everyone present retained.

“Are you sure?” It was clear Romelle wasn’t ready to take at face value my claims. She frowned at me when I shrugged, and then I was stepping towards the table. There wasn’t much talking going on. Most people present were none too subtle in their desire to pick up any choice tidbits from my exchange with my cousin. I refused to supply them with any further ammunition, nodding my hellos before I took the seat next to my mother.

In a wordless show of support, Diana placed her hand on top of mine. She’d give me a little squeeze, as though trying to lend me some of her extraordinary strength. Her attempts would only weaken me, my eyes turning wet as I struggled to keep from crying. Romelle was still watching me, but then so was many present at the royal family’s table.

My Aunt Orla would gesture for a servant to bring me some wine, thinking it would help to calm me down. It only served to alarm me, for I was struggling to think of a reason why I should refuse such a drink.

“I’m fine, really…” I was saying, as Orla tried to push the drink into my hand.

“You are not.” Insisted Orla. “Anyone can see that…”

“And why shouldn’t she be upset?!” Came the demanding voice of Avok from behind my chair. The prince had paced over to my corner of the table, and a glance his way showed the scowl curling his lips. “She’s been given to a pig.”

“Avok!” exclaimed Romelle with a gasp.

I felt a hysterical laugh come upon me, thinking to myself Avok had no clue just how big a pig Lotor truly was. Nor would my cousin ever likely be privy to the truth behind my relationship with Lotor, especially when it was apparent how quick to anger Avok was at the merest insult to myself. He would never tolerate the betrayal Lotor had done to me, his reaction to the fact Lotor had to be sent to the dungeons on my wedding night was proof of that.

My mother reached for the glass I was still holding. Orla’s attention was now on Avok, a disapproving frown on her lips. “He is rude and disrespectful.” She agreed. “Nor do you help matters, when you purposefully antagonize him.”

Avok’s eyes widened in disbelief. “I have a right to defend my cousin’s honor!”

“Is this truly about defending Allura, or satisfying your own quarrel with the prince?” Orla wondered, then sighed at his response.

“Of course it’s about defending Allura! I have a right to demand Lotor treat my cousin with the respect she deserves.” Orla still looked as though she didn’t entirely believe my cousin’s claims. It only served to agitate Avok, the man continuing. “She is not only his wife, but the heir to the Arusian throne. It is a position that demands respect in all aspects. He has no right to make demands of her, as though she is nothing more than some common trollop!”

My cheeks surely burned, for the truth was Lotor had tried to treat me as nothing better than some whore to be used and forgotten. And it was clear marriage hadn’t change his attitude where I was concerned. Only now he thought he had some kind of power over me, some right to demand I give him sexual satisfaction.

“It doesn’t matter what Prince Lotor thinks.” I said at last. “He can rant and rave all he likes, but it won’t change the outcome. This is not a love match, and I am not his property, to be used as he sees fit.”

Avok was still fired up, but he was nodding in approval. My mother gave a warning squeeze of my hand, as though trying to remind me of what was at stake at pretending to go along with some of Lotor’s desires. But I was tired of being humiliated, tired of Lotor bringing scandal and embarrassment to me. At that moment, I couldn’t bare the idea of letting everyone think I had allowed him to bed me, that I had allowed his seed to take root inside me. But my wants and desires, my fear of being made a laughing stock at Lotor’s hands, couldn’t be allowed for much longer. Lotor and I had to appear as though we were intimate enough to conceive a child, regardless of the shame it would cause me to have everyone think I had allowed him to touch me.

“We never wanted this marriage.” I continued. “It is merely the duty to our people that moved us to make such an alliance.”

“Hmph.” That was my Uncle Cova who snorted. “From the way he talked last night, I get the feeling Lotor doesn’t give a damn about keeping his people away from war.”

“We are fortunate then, that his father is more reasonable.” My mother said, with a strained look on her face. “Lotor may not care about the lives that could be lost, but King Zarkon does.”

“It’s just a pity Allura had to be forced into a loveless marriage with that brute.” Complained Avok.

“Need necessitated that.” Orla pointed out.

“Still I cannot stomach the thought of my cousin trapped in a relationship with Lotor!” Avok exclaimed. “Queen Diana, surely there could have been some other way, some other choice to cement peace between our worlds?”

Diana took her time answering, actually drinking down the contents of her glass first. “What’s done is done, Avok. For better or for worse, Lotor and Allura are wed now. I can only pray he accept that, and work to make the marriage a success.”

“Hmph.” Scoffed Avok. It was one sound, but it conveyed all his disbelief and disgust over Lotor’s ability for acceptance.

“It’s not just Lotor who has to put in effort towards the marriage.” Our eyes were drawn to my soft spoken cousin, Romelle still looking pale and uneasy. “I’m sure it would go a long way towards his acceptance, if Allura took the time to try and make the marriage work as well.”

“Romelle, what are you suggesting?!” demanded an aghast Avok.

“Nothing too extreme.” She said hastily. “Baby steps are needed…but they can be the foundation in which you build upon.” Her smile towards me was nervous, as though Romelle knew what she was saying wasn’t exactly a popular opinion.

“Next you’ll be talking about how you believe there is still a chance for love between our cousin and that Drule!” snapped Avok. Romelle shyly ducked her head, which was proof enough she still hoped for this marriage of mine to turn into a love match.

“It’s impossible.” I said.

“Not that impossible.” Protested Romelle. “You’ve known each other for years, ever since you were a child.”

“Lotor has changed.” I told her. “He’s no longer the boy who spent his summers on Arus.”

Romelle turned sad in response to that. “But….”

“But nothing Romelle!” exclaimed Avok. I was grateful for his interjection, fearing Romelle would bring up my girlhood crush on Lotor. A crush that had proven to be disastrous, my life in upheaval, and pretty much ruined.

“Please try…” urged Romelle, ignoring her brother. “You may be pleased by the results.”

I began cutting into my meal, intent on eating to keep me from having to talk to Romelle any longer. She didn’t take the hint, almost ruthless as she continued in her quest to see me find love and happiness in my marriage.

“Your honeymoon offers the perfect opportunity for you two.” She was saying. “You can get to know each other once more. Who knows, you might rediscover the Lotor you once knew!”

“There will be no honeymoon.” It was my father who spoke, Alfor having returned to the table at long last.

“No honeymoon?!” gasped Romelle, looking shocked. “But why?!”

My father wasn’t about to reveal the true reason behind the honeymoon’s cancellation. So many of the people present in this room had no idea that Lotor was our captive. “Allura has her studies to see to.” Was my father’s actual answer.

“Surely that can wait.” Romelle protested. “Even just a few days.”

“It’s an important time for Allura.” My father told her. “Now more than ever, she needs to devote herself to the tests that await her.”

Romelle frowned in response, but it was Orla who spoke. “Ah yes, Allura has reached the appropriate age, has she not?” She smiled at me, though it didn’t completely reach her eyes. My Aunt was still bothered by all that had happened with Lotor, and the talks that had followed.

“Yes, she has.” Alfor took his seat on the other side of my mother. “The near war and subsequent marriage has upset the schedule, but I dare say with a little work and a lot of effort, Allura can finish her schooling, in time for the next stage of her education.”

“Have you decided on which city it will be?” My uncle Cova asked.

“I have narrowed it down to three.” My father told him. “Cities not too big, but neither are they very small. One of them will be perfect for Allura to practice her governing skills on.”

I couldn’t even muster up any nervous excitement at his words, the situation I had caused with Lotor having ruined any pleasure I might have once had at the thought of the upcoming task that would be presented to me. How could I look forward to proving myself a fine and capable ruler, when my own life was falling apart around me? And yet this test could not be put off indefinitely. As the future heir to the throne, I had to prove I could make the right choices to keep my people happy. Governing over a city, was only the first step, the ultimate goal to prepare me for the time when I would have to make decisions that affected the whole planet.

Of course, I hoped my parent’s lived and reigned over Arus for many years more. I was neither eager to rule, nor to lose them to death’s embrace. My parents were my support system, and never had that been more apparent then after the debacle with Prince Lotor.

I was also aware of just how much I could have lost had things gone a different way. The reality of being sent away to a convent, skipped over in the throne’s succession, was one I had just barely avoided. It was yet one more reason I should be trying to keep up appearances, to make it seem as though my marriage to Lotor was working. Miserable though I may be by it, I had to reluctantly acknowledge it had solved at least one of my problems. What did it matter, that life with Lotor subsequently sent new troubles my way? I had to make do, to preserver and make the best out of all the trials that came my way.

It wouldn’t always be easy. But then my life had ceased it’s carefree state the moment I had awakened, half naked and abandoned by Lotor. I had spent these last two and a half weeks absolutely miserable, angry one minute, depressed the next. Even frightened! I hadn’t been able to concentrate on my studies, or on the advice my teacher gave me in order to leave me prepared for the time I too to governing my first city. At this moment and time, I was anything but ready to rule, and could only be glad it was not yet time for my test.

My parents surely understood the suffering I was going through. It was that understanding that allowed them to make some allowances where my education was concerned. But even they would not tolerate indefinitely, the downward spiral of my grades, and the upcoming task could not be delayed forever.

While these thoughts troubled me, my family continued to talk and speculate which city would be perfect for me to try my skills at. I didn’t have much input to offer, couldn’t even muster up any real feeling, not even at the thought that the decisions I would make, would affect an entire city’s population. When that time came, I would be thrust into the situation, with only a few advisors to make suggestions. I wanted, NEEDED to prove I could do this, as though being a fair and capable ruler could somehow make up for my sins and poor judgment where Lotor had been concerned.

I still worried what my father thought of me. He couldn’t have much confidence in my decision making abilities, not after all that had happened. I had to do everything possible to regain his faith in me, to prove that I had learned my lesson and emerged a different person from that gullible girl I had once been.

I was picking at my plate, fork pushing aside my meal. The stress of my situation had once again stolen my appetite, the bits of food, I had eaten tasting very much like sand on my tongue. My family chose not to comment on my lack of participation in the conversation, although my cousin Romelle kept darting worried glances my way. I couldn’t even be touched by her concern, nor could I force myself to eat to appease Romelle’s worry.

There was only so much they could talk about, where my upcoming test was concerned. Nor did my family want to jinx my attempts with speculation on what sort of ruler I would prove to be. It still didn’t keep my Uncle Cova from speaking, the man giving me a stiff smile.

“Allura has already proven just how self sacrificing she can be.” He was saying.

“Yes.” Agreed Avok. “She married Lotor, did she not?”

“She helped avert a war.” Cova continued. “She put asides her own hopes and dreams, and did what she had to in order to see peace restored between our worlds.”

“She may have stopped the war with her marriage to Lotor, but the next one won’t be as easy to remedy.” Romelle said. Everyone looked towards her, Romelle fidgeting. “After all, you can’t marry every time some other planet wants to war with Arus….”

“No, that’s where you come in, Romelle.” Cova said to his daughter, whose eyes widened in alarm.

“Cova.” Orla’s tone was chiding, then gentled as she addressed Romelle. “There will come a time when you will have to put aside your notions of a love match, and marry for the good of our world.”

Romelle actually dared protest at that, a single, alarmed word escaping her. “But…!”

“It is our duty, Romelle.” Avok reminded her, his own expression stony. “And we can only honor our cousin’s sacrifice, by doing what is needed of us when the time comes.”

I felt sympathy stir for my cousin. Romelle looked so upset, biting her bottom lip as though she fought the tears forming in her eyes. Avok wasn’t anywhere near crying, but it was clear he didn’t like the duty that so upset his sister, and had forced his cousin to marry Lotor.

Fortunately for both my cousins, they still had time before they would have to marry. There was no more wars to divert, no more alliances that needed to be cemented. I didn’t think anyone else would be foolish enough to bring trouble to Arus, which would allow Romelle better options when it came time to choose a husband. She might even be able to get away with marrying someone of the nobility on Arus, instead of a stranger from another world. That was an option that should have been allowed me, but I had foolishly squandered myself on Lotor. On the lie that he loved me.

“The crown carries much weight and responsibility.” I sighed out loud. “For all the privileges we are born into, it is not that bad to have to sacrifice a little…”

“You shouldn’t have to sacrifice love!” Romelle’s voice was weepy, she truly was struggling not to cry at this point. Her own father looked annoyed by what she had said, shaking his head in disbelief.

“When will you put such notions out of your head?!” He demanded. “Love is for the common folk, not the nobility!”

“But love can happen.” My mother interrupted, smiling at my father as she touched his hand. That little bit of support seemed to bolster Romelle, the girl nodding her head in rapid agreement.

“Yes! You may not have married for love, but it can happen! You just have to give it time!”

I could only stare at her, struggling to hide my exasperation. And yet for all the annoyance I felt, I did not wish my cousin ill. I never wanted what had happened to me, to happen to her. I never wanted to see Romelle’s belief in love crushed so entirely.

“A man like Lotor is unlovable.” Grumbled my cousin Avok. I could only silently agree, though I kept from nodding in response to Avok’s statement. It wouldn’t do my marriage any good to show my support to that notion. But privately, where no one was privy to my own inner thoughts? I felt Avok was right. How could I ever truly love a man like Lotor, a man who was so detestable as to use a naive girl’s foolish dreams in an attempt to further his own ambitions? I now knew his true nature, knew how little regard he had for me in return. I wondered how I could have ever overlooked his harsh treatment of me when we were children, how I could have deluded myself so about him to allow a crush to develop. But mostly I wondered what it would take to let those remaining feelings I had for him, die completely so that I could never be preyed on or hurt by his words and actions again.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: