And thus the room erupts into gasps and excited chatter, both Drules and slaves rising, staring at me as I darkened their doorway. They’ve noticed the blood on my clothes, the fact that my sword is missing from it’s scabbard. I don’t wait for the questions to begin, standing tall, proud as I step further into the room.
“The commander is dead.”
A few more gasps follow my announcement, a woman near to me clutching at her chest in horror. There are frowns and grimaces aimed my way, confusion in many eyes. There is even anger, a sense of loss being experienced by quite a few.
“Dead?” Someone asks, as though the question alone could change the outcome of my answer.
“Dead.” From behind me comes Haggar’s voice, the witch having shadowed me to this room. She thinks to protect me, to guard against any further foolishness I might do. But truly, this is my mess, and there is little she can do to actually help fix things. Not when I won’t take her advice and have Allura killed.
The upset being shown in this room, makes me think that even Allura’s death wouldn’t set things right with these people. They had liked and respected the commander, had had dealings with him, had had their own fortunes added to as a result of some of his exploits. Where as Allura had gained them little, the woman bringing nothing but madness and misfortune to the Drules.
She’ll bring more of it yet, may very well plunge us into a civil war. I should be doing everything I can to minimize the damage, to rid us of Allura’s brand of trouble. And yet I remain stubbornly frozen in inaction, unable to let go, to break free of her. Her hooks are deep inside me, and I can’t, won’t tear them out.
Worse yet, my people are becoming aware of how entrapped I am by that hated woman. It worries as much as angers them, the people beginning to raise their voices, forgetting their place as they snarl accusations at me. Haggar cries out for respect and quiet, but it is another’s voice who silences them.
“Let the King speak.”
It is Hazar, the crowd parting to let him walk forward. His expression is stern, his earlier feigned friendliness gone from his eyes. But he hides any triumph he might feel, any eagerness he has for my throne.
I give him a cold look back, nodding my thanks for the quiet he has gained me. “The commander challenged my authority.” I say. “He not only attempted to take the woman, but my life as well.”
The stunned silence doesn’t last long, someone crying out. “Why would he do that?”
“Commander Garrant apparently didn’t take too well to his fun being interrupted.” Haggar speaks for me.
“And what would you know witch?” demands another. “Were you there?” It is a sign of how upset they are, that any would dare speak to Haggar in this way. The witch narrows her eyes at the impertinence shown her, Haggar all but scowling as she makes an admittance.
“I was not.”
“Commander Garrant was a level headed man.” Hazar points out. “I don’t, won’t believe he lost his reason over a slave.”
“You doubt your King’s words?” Haggar demands, her glare now on Hazar.
“I merely want to know the truth of tonight’s happenings.” retorts Hazar. “It is after all a great loss we have suffered.”
“Not as great a loss, had the commander’s attack on our King been successful.” Haggar quickly counters.
“Indeed.” Hazar nods. “After all, the Empire cannot afford to be without a King.”
“Especially one as great as our Lord, Lotor.” Haggar says, ready to remind them all of my accomplishments. “He has after all, built this empire into what it is today. He’s improved upon his father’s ambitions, granted us wealth beyond our dreams, planets and people clamoring for the chance to be part of this great kingdom. Without Lotor….”
“We are all aware of what we owe our King.” Hazar interrupts her. His expression betrays little, but I can tell all the same. Hazar hadn’t liked Haggar’s attempt to remind everyone of what I had done, what they should be grateful to me for. “Just as we owe a debt of gratitude to the late commander. It is unfortunate that they have come to blows, that our King was forced to defend himself and his property from Garrant’s lust.”
“Yes but…” A hesitant voice, the woman’s expression pained. “Did he really have to kill him?”
Everyone’s eyes are on me, waiting for my response. “There’s no excuse for what he tried to do.” I say. “An attack on the King, is an attack on the Empire. It is an inexcusable offense, meriting execution.”
“That shouldn’t have been for you to decide!” Someone hidden in the back of the crowd shouts. Agreeing murmurs rise up, the people not liking that I have played judge, jury and executioner to the commander.
“I am law!” I snarl at them. “I am the righteous fury of the Empire, the exacting hand of justice. If I deem someone should die, then by the hells or the heavens, they will be executed. By my own blade if need be!”
The gathered group already restless, doesn’t like what I have said. They don’t want to believe the worst of Garrant, don’t want to believe he’d be fool enough to attack their King. They especially don’t want to believe he could betray the Empire in such a way just because Allura had supposedly stirred his lusts to such a frenzy.
“To make an attempt on your King, whatever the reason, is an act of treason.” I continue. “He lifted his weapon against me, made an attempt on my life. I will not be made to feel sorry for what I have done!”
“I am sure no one is asking that of you.” Hazar interjects smoothly. “Just as I am sure you can understand the shock we are all experiencing. Commander Garrant was a hero of the Drule people after all. To hear that he would be so foolish as to throw everything away and attack you….it is upsetting.”
“Imagine how I must feel, having lived through the attack.” I retort dryly.
“Of course.” Hazar bows his head slightly. The Drules gathered in this room, are hardly appeased but at least they are no longer grumbling, or worse yet shouting out accusations. But the calm won’t last, the click clack of high heels approaching from the hall bringing someone who is about to shatter it.
“Ah your highness.” A familiar voice says from the doorway. It is then that I realize Merla hadn’t even been in the room, and I wonder just what she had been up to, to be gone this long. “Back so soon?”
“Merla.” Hazar speaks quickly as I turn towards the Queen. “There’s been an incident. Garrant is dead.”
Merla is looking directly at me when Hazar’s words register. I watch her careful mask of indifference break, she’s genuinely shocked and not quite able to hide it. Merla hadn’t been expecting to hear of Garrant’s death, that hadn’t been a part of her plan. It makes sense, for who in their right mind would volunteer for what could have and had in fact amounted to a suicide’s mission? Garrant hadn’t been expecting to court death, had probably thought at worse to be roughed up by me. No one had counted on Allura being the one to act in so deadly a manner, for her to have the luck to land a killing blow on a Drule. It works in her favor now, there is little reason for anyone to suspect she had played so direct a role in Garrant’s death.
“Did you hear me Merla?” Hazar asks. “The commander is dead.” He’s waiting for Merla to compose herself, to put the mask back in place. Merla blinks her eyes several times before she can clear the shock off her face.
“How terrible.” She finally says, her tone of voice bland. Are the wheels turning in that crafty mind of hers? They must be, for she locks gazes with me, and speaks words that are more statement than question. “By your hand, no doubt, Lotor? Honestly!” She snorts at my nod. “Could you have not shared your little slave for just one night with one man?”
“Frankly at this point, it doesn’t matter if I could or could not.” I answer. “The commander dared to attack me. If not for my own sword skill, I wouldn’t be standing here before you, hale and hearty. As it is…” I skimmed a hand over my side, Merla’s gaze dipping there though she wouldn’t be able to see the stitched up wound underneath my shirt. “I was very lucky to come away with nothing more than a injury that will scar.”
“How fortunate for us all then.” Merla replies. “But still, it is a pity about the commander. He was popular, favored by many.”
“Not to mention successful at what he did.” added Hazar. “It is a shame he lost himself tonight. And over a woman, a slave at that!”
“Where is that slave?” Merla asked, trying for a casual tone. “Does she still live, or has her just punishment already been dealt out?”
“You needn’t concern yourself with the woman.” I snap, my tone cold.
“But your highness…” Merla widens her eyes in feigned dismay. “She was the ruin of a good man. She clouded his mind, used her body to stir his lusts. ”
“You would know all about that, wouldn’t you Merla?” Mocked Haggar, the witch not bothering to lower her voice. It earned her a withering glare from the Queen, but Haggar hadn’t succeeded in deflecting attention away from what Merla had been saying.
“You are going to kill her, aren’t you Lotor?” One of the nobles asked.
“It’s the right thing to do.” added another.
“The slave Allura had little to do with Garrant’s true motives.” I say, and an excited murmur of sound comes from the crowd.
“True motives?” asks Merla, trying for an innocent disbelief. “Whatever do you mean?”
“I do not believe this was an isolated incident. Garrant was wanting more than just sex.”
“It’s suspect, don’t you think?” I ask, and turn back to the gathered Drules. “That the commander would decide on Allura for his sport.”
“What is there to suspect? We can all agree the slave is beautiful.” Hazar said.
It was difficult to find the right words for what I had to say. I knew I had to tread carefully so as not to put too much importance on Allura’s worth to me. Otherwise these people would feel their fears confirmed, take it as proof I was still bewitched and made foolish by my feelings for Allura.
“Lotor, what is it you are trying to say?” Merla prodded at my prolonged silence.
“Just this.” I say. “Garrant picked that slave to purposefully lure me out. Either I would do nothing, and he would get to enjoy a night with a beautiful woman. Or I would come to reclaim what is mine, and thus such he would take the opportunity to attack me over her.” A bland smile from me. “What he wasn’t counting on was that I would be the better warrior of us two.”
“You think what? That the commander was purposefully scheming to remove you from the throne?” Merla let out wicked peals of laughter. “Oh your highness, surely you jest.”
“What happened tonight was no joke.” I snap with a growl.
“That we agree on.” Hazar said.
“A man is dead.” Someone else murmurs, Merla’s laughter calming down.
“Commander Garrant was many things.” She says. “But I cannot imagine him holding ambitions for the Empire’s throne.”
“He may not have had designs to rule.” I agree, wondering who I should watch more closely. Hazar or Merla. “But there are others who would benefit from his actions.”
“Just what are you implying?!” demanded Merla, hands on her hips.
“There is more than just the commander involved in this.”
“What proof do you have?” Merla asks.
“None yet.” I admit. “But soon enough…”
“Anyone can use this time to plant the proof needed to set someone up.” interjects Merla. Her mind is indeed plotting, even now. “I’d give little trust to any so called evidence that is found. Not when there is so much at stake.” She gives a shake of her head, frowning. “Surely, if indeed the commander had any accomplices, they would be quick to arrange things so that it would implicate someone else.”
“We will be thorough in our investigations.” I reply, unsmiling.
“Thorough may not be good enough, considering what is at stake.” Merla insisted, then let out a pronounced gasp, acting as though a thought had just occurred to her. “Someone stands to get rid of some powerful enemies…Anyone could be blamed….anyone could be made scapegoat for what has happened tonight. Even you, your highness, may find opportunity to at last dispose of a few troublesome Drules.”
One could only hope that was the case if those troublesome Drules were Merla and Hazar! But I didn’t speak that thought out loud, listening to the gathered crowd raise their voices in alarm. Merla’s implications had them all worried, and more than a few wondered if he or she could end up dead or imprisoned by false evidence that had been trumped up against them.
“Merla, when I want to get rid of someone, I won’t need to fake some charges against them.” My own bland expression shown, my tone grim.
“Because you are the law, Lotor?” My own words came at me, given life by Hazar’s mocking tone.
“You take issue with that Hazar?” I shoot a hostile look at the crowd. “And the rest of you?”
“Not at all.” Someone was quick to say. “We merely want to make sure the right people, the guilty ones, are punished for tonight’s happenings.”
“And thus they shall.” I retort. “Which is why you all are to remain in the castle, until all inquiries have been conducted.” Now I did smile, though it was cold. “You will all be under round the clock surveillance. For your own protection of course.”
“Of course.” Hazar acknowledge with a nod, his expression not betraying his feelings nor his thoughts.
“Our protection?” Merla scoffed, her tone bitter. “And who will protect our interests while this so called investigation is being conducted? Who will be there to make sure whatever you find, doesn’t get someone killed?”
“If you are innocent, then you need not have such fears.”
“Commander Garrant had no such fears, and he still ended up dead!” Merla points out.
“NO!” She interrupts me with an vehement exclamation. “I cannot believe the commander was doing as you say. He was loyal to the Empire! He supported what was best for us, had little quarrel with anyone. Yes, he disagreed on some of your….policies, but to say he would disagree so strongly as to want you dead? That is laughable!”
“Merla. watch your tongue!” snapped out Haggar, but the witch was ignored.
“His only crime was to set eye on the King’s slave!” Merla continued. Her eyes were brimming with an angry challenge, Merla riling up everyone with her words. “To want that cursed woman, not realizing the King would…cherish his possession to the point of murder.”
“I acted to defend my life!” I snap back, even as the crowd began whispering things to each other. “The commander sought not only to kill me, but to take from the Empire the King it depends on! He would do all of us a disfavor!”
“I don’t believe that is what happened at all!” Merla advanced forward, the gathered Drules attentive to her every word, her every action.
“It doesn’t matter what you believe!” Haggar snarled, receiving a vicious look from the Queen.
“Let her speak!” This was supported by the crowd, the group shouting out agreements.
“We want to hear!”
“It is our right to know!”
“It is suspect, is it not?” Merla demanded. “That our King would allow the slave to be taken in the first place. Especially given her….sentimental value to the King.”
“I advise you to drop this Merla.” I growl in warning.
“We need to examine all possible reasons for what happened tonight.” Hazar spoke up in support of Merla and the crowd. “Even if it is…unpleasant to consider.”
“Or do you have something to hide?” Merla taunted.
“Not at all.” I said in a steely tone of voice.
“Good. Then you won’t mind me putting this out there. ” Merla all but grinned her victory at me. “You knew you couldn’t easily get rid of such a popular hero of the Drule. You certainly couldn’t dismiss him from his post, banish him from the kingdom without a lot of fuss and protest. So you did the next best thing. You set him up.”
“That couldn’t be farther from the truth.” I insisted.
“Then why did you let him leave with that slave in the first place? If not to have the excuse to go after them? It’s rather convenient he attacked you when there was no one else around to play witness to the crime.”
“Are you doubting the King’s word?” Haggar demanded.
“Even the King should not be above paying for this crime!” retorted Merla, brimming with satisfaction as the crowd let out agreeing cries.
“Let us not get carried away!” shouted Haggar over the crowd. “We don’t have any proof either way for what has happened…”
“But we’ll get it.” Merla insisted. I couldn’t help responding to her overly confidant tone, stepping towards the Queen with menace coloring my every action.
“Because you’ll have seen to it?” I demanded, standing toe to toe with the Queen, an angry glower on my face as I stared into eyes that all but glowed with her defiance.
“Now you would accuse me of attempting wrong doing?” Merla demanded with a hiss. “Lotor, really. You’re jumping at shadow, quick to place the blame on any and all who displease you.”
“The way you scramble Merla, anyone with a brain could see you have something to hide.” I retort. “What that something is though, is up for debate.”
“I am loyal to the Empire.” Merla insisted, though she wasn’t so quick to profess loyalty to me. “I merely want what is best for it.”
“That we all do.” Hazar said from somewhere behind me. Haggar guarding my back was the only thing that kept me from spinning in place, to keep an eye on the man who was just as dangerous as the Queen.
“There has been many accusations this night.” spoke Haggar. “Excitement and tempers run high. We do no one any good with these unfounded suspicions.”
“We merely want justice.” Merla hadn’t taken her eyes off me, the woman’s lips twitching as though she was fighting a smirk. “Who that justice is for though, that remains to be seen.”
“Someone is scheming against the throne.” I say in reply. “I intend to have the guilty parties exposed, the traitors executed for their treason. That will be your justice served.”
Merla didn’t so much as flinch, her defiant glare unwavering. She wasn’t cowed by the thought of exposure, or of the execution I had promised. Which meant the woman was secure in the knowledge that the schemes she had plotted with Hazar, weren’t about to unravel that easily. Now more than ever I wish to be rid of these two, but knew that my hands were tied at the moment. There was too many who supported the pair, too many present who would claim I acted without justifiable reason to kill Hazar and Merla. I feared very much that by the time I had the proof needed, the two would well be on their way to leading a revolt against my rule. My kingdom would split, the Drules fighting each other, and I couldn’t help but wonder how many more supporters I had lost with tonight’s happenings. And though Garrant’s murder had been unexpected, everything else was playing into Merla and Hazar’s hands. Especially me! It was all snow balling out of my control, and I wondered how much more would be lost in the coming weeks.