It wouldn’t be until after breakfast, that word came of the accident that befell my cousin, Avok. The details of how exactly he had been injured were not made clear, but I instantly thought of Lotor, and of how angry Avok had been with him. My cousin can be vicious when his temper is aroused, and around Lotor, Avok was almost always angry. I had no doubt that the injury of my cousin was somehow tied to my husband, though at the time I couldn’t imagine how Lotor had managed to cause it. Not with the device of my father’s, working to control and subdue any attempts at violence Lotor might choose to undertake.
Worried, I couldn’t help but wonder how badly Lotor had been hurt as well. With both Avok and the subduing device working against him, Lotor didn’t stand a chance of walking away unharmed. I told myself my worry was all for my cousin, told myself that I didn’t care how much Lotor’s foolish anger caused him to hurt himself. But I remembered how disturbed I had been, that first time at dinner, when I bore witness to just how the device worked to incapacitate Lotor. I also remembered how he had fought against it, maintaining his anger for far longer than should have been possible. It scared me, almost as much as the depth of the rage Lotor had within him.
I also felt an anger of my own, wishing Lotor would learn from his mistakes. Wanting him to control his temper, and put an end to his violent tendencies. But as badly as I wanted all three, I was certain it was foolish of me to hope for change in Lotor. I felt it was too late, that there was no changing a man so set in his ways. A man who refused to see the error of his past misdeeds against me and my family. How could Lotor ever learn, when he didn’t even acknowledge his sins against me as wrong?
I was wishing things had been different, that both of us had been smarter when it came to the choices we had made. But there wasn’t time to devote to such thoughts. Not when I was concerned for my cousin. Romelle was with me, and she looked close to tears, so disturbed by the mere mention of her brother’s accident. I would take her by the hand, giving her my most reassuring look as I guided her to walk with me. We wouldn’t run, though we did hurry to the wing of the castle devoted to all things medical.
It wasn’t particularly busy down in the infirmary. The castle hospital had a full staff, but they were often on standby during this time of continuing peace. Often times there was only a handful of patients per day to attend to, the various servants and soldiers who worked and lived at the castle being tended to here. It actually seemed a very boring employment, when one compared the castle to the busy hospitals of the towns and cites spread across Arus. But the men and women who worked on staff as nurses, doctors, and orderlies, were paid handsomely for their round the clock care.
I was grateful for their time and devotion, but never more so than when my pregnancy had made itself known to me. Doctor Gorma, the head of the hospital staff, was the ultimate in discrete. Nor did he make any rude or disparaging remarks, seeming to sympathize with the situation I had gotten myself into. My pregnancy was a secret that was kept safe in the doctor’s hands, and he would not only continue to monitor the baby’s development, but lie about just when the child had been conceived. No one would find out from him, the truth behind my child’s conception.
It was one less thing I had to worry about, though right now my concern was for both of my cousins. Romelle was so upset, I could feel her shaking via the hand I held on to. I’d continue to give her reassurances, while meeting the eyes of a nearby orderly. He knew immediately why we were here, and gave a subtle gesture for us to follow him.
“Easy Romelle…” I advised her. “Avok’s injury can’t be all that bad.” I gestured at how calm the surrounding area was, the staff lingering idyll about. If Avok had been in any real danger, there would have been a flurry of activity, nurses and doctors rushing about, as they attempted to save the prince’s life.
“Yes…you’re right…” Romelle said, giving me a half smile. She had yet to start crying, though her eyes still gleamed with wetness. “I’m just letting my fears get the better of me…”
I couldn’t stop the anger from flaring, leaking annoyance into my voice. “It’s no wonder you worry! We were not given any true details of the nature of his injury or the accident that caused it!” Indeed we had been told very little, save to say that Avok had been rushed to the infirmary. I didn’t know why the guard couldn’t have remained to tell us more, but he had been hurrying off to deal with some new problem that had developed elsewhere in the castle.
“I’m sure we would have been told, under normal circumstances…” Romelle said, having reacted to the annoyance I voiced.
“Whatever the situation, you should not have been made to worry so!” I exclaimed. “Honestly….I don’t care if even a war was happening. That guard should have remained to tell us more about what had happened….”
Our roles had reversed. Now Romelle was the one trying to keep me calm. “Allura, please. Whatever has happened, I am sure it needed to be resolved first. And it only took us a few minutes to walk down here….”
“It was a few minutes more than you needed to spend worrying.” I retorted. And then we were in front of the room that had been given to Avok, the orderly nodding at us to enter. It put an end to my complaints, Romelle hurrying to enter inside before me. I would be one step behind her, but even if I had been a mile away, I wouldn’t have been able to miss the relieved way she called out to him.
Avok lay on a bed, propped up against several pillows. He didn’t immediately respond to Romelle’s voice, instead staring down at a view screen that played no scene. Romelle would have to call out a second time, and only then did Avok rouse himself from whatever thoughts had him in their grip.
“Romelle…” He said her name softly, a calm, serene smile on his face. I hung back by the door, but my eyes were intent on my cousin. Studying his face, searching for signs of any abuse he might have suffered at Lotor’s hands. To my relief, there was no bruises or cuts, nothing that would leave a permanent mark on his handsome face. I couldn’t say the same for his hand, my gaze drifting downwards, spying the blood on his clothes, the thick bandages wrapped around his right hand. They covered everywhere, from the tips of his fingers, to half way past his wrist. I couldn’t even begin to imagine just what Lotor had done to cause Avok to need such a thorough wrapping of his hand, but I felt anger flare in me all the same.
“Avok, what happened?” My voice, barely able to contain the anger I felt, drew Avok’s surprised gaze to mine. He stared at me a long moment, then surprise melted to warmth.
“Allura, you’re here….” He seemed so happy by that fact, smiling broadly.
“Of course I am.” I told him, and Romelle piped in.
“We came immediately upon hearing about your accident.”
“You did…?” He asked, not looking at his sister.
“We rushed right down here.” I assured him. “We had to make sure you were all right.”
His smile seemed even bigger, Avok lifting his left hand to urge me closer. “I’m fine, now that you are here…” Romelle touched his gesturing hand, startling Avok into looking at her.
“What happened to you? Why is your hand so bandaged up?”
His brows drew together as though Avok was struggling to remember the answer to her questions. I was beginning to suspect that more had been done to him than just bandaging up his hand, though I didn’t know how much pain medication they would have given him, or just what was the true extent of his injuries.
“I…I got cut…” Avok finally said.
“Cut?” Romelles’ brow furrowed, her gaze landing on his bandaged hand. “How badly?”
“Needed stitches in seven separate places.” Avok told her.
“Stitches!” Romelle gasped, letting go of his hand to press her own against her mouth.
“How did this happen?” I asked, Avok’s gaze immediately turning away from Romelle to settle on mine. I was near the bed now, almost to his side. Again his uninjured hand lifted, fingers beckoning me to come closer. I did so, fighting to keep the anger out of my expression, wanting only my concern for Avok to show. “Did…” Before I could finish my next question, Avok latched onto my right hand. I was startled by the sudden contact, for my cousin was not one to often touch me. Here, he laced our fingers together, Avok gazing up at me with a happy smile that was downright comical.
“Allura….” It was a husky whisper of my name, his green eyes seeming to darken in color. “You’re such a sweet girl….Always so kind and concerned for everyone.” I wasn’t quite sure what to say to that, stammering out an uncertain sound. It didn’t matter, Avok was speaking over me, still wearing that unsettling smile. “You’re not at all like what he says.”
“You aren’t, aret you?” Avok said, instead of responding to my question. It didn’t matter, I had a pretty good idea who the he was that Avok referred to.
“You don’t have any of those….those lewd feelings that he insinuated you had.” Avok continued. Instant dread was in my stomach, my fingers going limp in his grasp.
“You’d never want to do anything with him.” Avok said, but he wasn’t as confidant as his words would have one believe. His gaze was urgent as it bore into mine, Avok searching my eyes for the truths he wanted to believe in. “You’d never kiss him, or touch him. And you damn well wouldn’t have sex with him!”
“Avok!” exclaimed Romelle, her voice a sharp saying of his name. He didn’t respond to her, his gaze still fixated on mine. I felt pinned to the spot by it, mortification blooming in me as I wondered what possible things Lotor could have told my cousin, to have Avok questioning me in this way.
“You wouldn’t, would you Allura?” Avok asked, fingers turning squeezing. “You wouldn’t do those things with him, with anyone! You’re better than that, right?”
“He’s nothing to you.” Avok insisted, them started to tremble at my response.
“He’s my husband.”
“You don’t love him!” Avok’s grip on my hand was starting to hurt, leaving me to attempt to jerk free. It only agitated him, my cousin tugging on my hand, forcing me to put my other hand against his chest to keep from toppling onto him. “You don’t want him…” He added, and though he still trembled, the touch of my hand on his chest, seemed to cool some of his agitation.
“You couldn’t possibly want a bastard like Lotor.” Avok whispered.
“Avok!” Romelle exclaimed. “Do not speak about Allura’s husband in that manner.”
“I have reason too!” He snapped back. “You weren’t there! You didn’t hear the things he said, the things he insinuated. You didn’t see the look in his eyes…”
“What look?” wondered Romelle, even as I was speaking.
“Tell me everything.” My tone was grim, but commanding. But even doped up on pain killers, Avok wasn’t quick to respond to it. Instead he would shake his head, his grip on my hand relaxing somewhat, though he still wouldn’t let go of it.
“No, Allura. Such things….such stories are not fit for a lady’s ears.”
“Stories?” My unease intensified. I was wondering if Lotor was fool enough to brag to Avok about what had happened the night of my eighteenth birthday. But then I didn’t think Avok would be this calm, even with the drugs inside him, if he knew the absolute truth behind my marriage.
“A lady is what you are.” He continued, speaking as though he needed reassurance of that. “You’re too good for his type….” He shook then, a scowl crossing his lips. “I should kill him.”
“Avok, no!” Both I and Romelle protested in one breath.
“I really should! Then you wouldn’t have to suffer as his wife.” Avok squeezed my hand again, drawing a pained whimper from my lips. “He wants to have sex with you.” He told me, seeming not to be aware of the discomfort he was causing me. “He wants to dirty you…to bring you down to his level…I won’t let him. If he’s dead, you won’t have to…want have to endure his hands all over you any more!”
“You can’t…” I gasped out around my pain.
“It would be an act of war!” added Romelle.
“War.” Avok scoffed at the notion. “Some things are worth fighting for. Allura is worth fighting for.” I was actively trying to get away, my free hand shoving at his chest as I tried to pull away.
“Tell that to the people who die in such battles!” Romelle retorted, reaching over to try and help me get free of Avok’s crushing grip.
“You think they wouldn’t be glad to die in Allura’s name? For her honor?!” Avok demanded, eyes looking half crazed. “Ask any of the men in this castle, if they want their princess tied to that despicable Drule! They don’t! None of us want to see Allura be with him. None of us want her to be miserable, to be soiled by that fiend’s perversions!”
“Avok, you’re hurting me!” I said it, my voice small and holding a world’s worth of pain to it.
He would blink, and look down at our joined hands. Romelle and I were both attempting to pry his fingers off, and only then would he realize what he was doing. His grip loosened, and I pulled back my hand with a relieved sound. Avok would stare not at me, but at his own hand, fingers flexing open and close several times. “I…I’m sorry. I didn’t mean…I didn’t mean to hurt you!”
“It’s….it’s all right…” I started to say, but my cousin Romelle spoke up.
“No, it is not all right!” her tone was fierce, her blue eyes blazing with anger. “You hurt Allura with more than just your actions. Your words alone are thoughtless and cruel!” She jabbed a finger against Avok’s chest, poking him hard. “I don’t know what you and Lotor talked about exactly. I don’t know what, and I don’t care to know!”
“You seek to excuse his behavior through ignorance!” Avok protested.
“I’m not seeking to excuse anyone!” Romelle retorted. “Least of all YOU!”
“What? What have I done?!” Avok demanded.
“I’ll tell you what you haven’t done!” Romelle snapped. “You haven’t been at all supportive of Allura OR Lotor in this trying time for them.”
“That’s not true!” protested Avok. “I’ve always supported Allura….always done everything I can to…”
“All I see is you interfering with her marriage, with her attempts to come to accept her husband!” Romelle exclaimed. “Avok, they are married now. They are going to spend their lives together. Yes, they may not love each other YET…”
“Never will Allura love that bastard!” roared Avok, Romelle continuing as though he hadn’t interrupted her.
“And yes, they may have married in less than ideal situation. But they are both trying to make the best of their situation. The least you can do, is to respect them and do the same!”
“Then you SHUT UP and stay out of their affairs!” Romelle finished with a hiss. She glanced towards me, as though seeking my approval. But all I could do was return a bemused stare, more than a little taken aback by Romelle’s potent outburst. I had never seen her so angry with her own brother before, and I was coming to realize just how strongly invested she was in the concept of my gaining eventual happiness with Lotor as my husband. It brought a tear to my eye, but more than that I felt certain Lotor and I would disappoint Romelle. A happy ending was simply not in the cards for ones such as me, a girl who had been hurt so deeply by the man she had thought loved her.