They had been late in leaving for the ceremony, the clock ringing in the appointed hour amidst excited squawks of Lotor’s aides. She had been somewhat amused to watch them try to hurry Lotor along, clapping their hands together, and clicking their tongues. Lotor had handled it all with good humor, refusing to be rushed. In fact Allura distinctly remembered Lotor announcing that the nobles waited on him, and not the other way around.
The two aide had seem put off by Lotor’s attitude, disappointed frowns directed his way. Lotor seemed intent on aggravating them further, taking a long drawn out sip of his wine, and inspecting himself in the mirror. His appearance was immaculate, not a thread out of place, and yet he fiddled with invisible specks of dust on his shirt’s collar. He showed the same care to Allura, reaching out to make adjustment on the silver ropes that wound about the puffed out sleeves of her dress.
Finally he could delay no longer, Lotor offering his arm to Allura. She took it, feeling the first flickers of nervous energy spark through her. Her nerves would only get worse as they left the room, the king’s guards snapping to attention. Resplendent in their purple and silver uniforms, the Drules split into three segments, a rush of six guards walking ahead of Lotor and Allura. Six more guarded their rears, while four in pairs of two, walked along side the pair.
The aides squeezed their way through the guards, insisting on remaining close to their king. It was their voices that took up much of the walk, the men excitedly going over the ceremony one last time. Allura supposed she couldn’t blame them, the Drules wanting nothing to go wrong with tonight’s coronation. Lotor gave the air of one unconcerned, but even he appeared to be paying close attention to their words.
She didn’t dare interrupt, walking quietly besides Lotor, her eyes darting from side to side, noting the differences in the halls. It was subtle, but already changes had been made, the corridors cleared of any sign of the former king’s presence. His statues and paintings were gone, and the blood red rugs had been replaced with cool, inviting colors.
It wasn’t just the scenery that changed the halls, the servants that wandered the floor, were more relaxed, smiles on their faces as they gave acknowledging bows to the passing king. The castle seemed to lack the oppressing air it had once held, leaving Allura to wonder if everyone was getting their hopes up on the changes Lotor would supposedly bring to his rule.
The further they went from the bedroom, the less familiar the halls looked to her, Allura realizing they were entering a part of the castle she had never been in before. Her stomach gave a little lurch, nervous butterflies fluttering about inside, the girl trying not to cling to Lotor’s arm. It was silly, but she felt nervous not only for herself, but for what was slated to happen in the throne room. This would be the first real court function she attended, and Allura knew it would be different in so many ways from the funerals she had accompanied Lotor to.
At least with Cossack’s funeral, Allura had felt she had a right to be there, small though it might be. No one had dared outright object to her presence, though they did stop and stare at her. The stares made her uncomfortable, and she hoped that it wouldn’t be repeated tonight. Nor did she want the whispered conversations, the nobles gossiping about her. Allura could only hope and pray that they had gotten over their curiosity about her at the funeral, the girl not wanting to be made the center of attention at what was to be Lotor’s moment to shine.
It wasn’t just the nobles that had her worried, Allura couldn’t help thinking about the poor souls slated to die tonight. She knew there was little chance of talking Lotor out of it, he had made it abundantly clear that this act would strengthen his hold on the throne. And yet she wished it didn’t have to be this way, Allura wondering how she was going to handle the moment when it came time to kill the traitors.
She was trying to keep from turning completely morbid, shutting down her thought’s before they began wondering at what form of death the executioner would grant. And still she remembered the whispers from the harem, the other slaves talking about the fondness Doom had for putting their enemies’ heads on display. Allura must have shuddered at that thought, for Lotor was glancing at her concerned.
“I’m fine.” She quickly assured him, noticing the guards ahead of them had slowed to a stop. They were just around the bend of the hall, Allura unable to see what lay beyond it. But she could hear the muffled murmur of voices, a large crowd of people talking. Her palms turned sweaty, Allura resisting the urge to wipe them on her skirt as she realized they were almost at the throne room’s entrance.
“What’s going on?” Allura inquired, glancing back at Lotor. “Why are we stopping?”
“Ah, forgive me Allura, but you must go on without me.” Her eyebrows rose in surprise, Allura staring shocked at Lotor.
“The king must enter on his own.” It was one of the aides who answered, the man looking down his nose at her. “He cannot take the time to get you settled, not when he has traditions to uphold.”
“It’s merely a formality.” Lotor assured her, disentangling her hand from his arm. His fingers lingered on her wrist, the king seeming reluctant to part from her. “I must walk the path to the throne alone.”
“The king will be very busy tonight…” added the aide, a haughty sniff following his words. “You’ll be expected to stay out of his way, and not make a spectacle of yourself.”
“The more I hear, the more I wish I had remained behind.” Allura muttered, pulling back her hand from Lotor’s grip.
“It’ll only be for a few hours.” Lotor was quick to say, offering a smile to her. “And Haggar will be there, so you won’t be completely alone.”
“Thank the Gods for small favors.” Allura sighed, resisting the impulse to turn away from Lotor.
“Your highness, we have delayed long enough.” The one aide said, fixing Allura with a pointed look. “If we are going to do this, we should hurry.”
“Of course.” Lotor agreed, and gestured to one of the guards. The man stepped out of the line up, approaching the king. “You will be Allura’s escort for the night. I expect you to take good care of her.” It was a less than friendly smile Lotor gave him, the man turning nervous at the orders he had received.
“You honor me sire.” He said, bowing his head.
“That I do.” Lotor agreed, and a wave from him had the guards clearing an open path to the end of the hall, the chosen escort waiting for Allura to move.
“Good luck.” She softly told Lotor, and then was turning to move down the row of guards, her escort hurrying after her. They went around the corner, Allura almost stopping to stare at the immense size of the throne room’s double doors. The guard reached to take her elbow, a subtle touch to keep her moving. There was two more soldiers waiting for them in front of the doors, clad in the gray colored uniform of the palace guards. They didn’t question Allura’s appearance, moving quickly to open the doors.
The sound of the crowd grew louder, the people turning to catch sight of the latest arrival to the throne room. Allura hesitated on the threshold, not sure what sort of expression she should wear. Was a smile appropriate at this time? Or should she maintain a blank expression, appearing unmoved by whatever may happen? Before she could decide, the nobles were falling quiet, almost hostile in the way they stared at her. She felt their gazes rake over her form, noting everything about her from the upswept hair style, to the diamonds twinkling on her gown.
Allura wasn’t sure she met their approval, the girl conscious that she was the only human in the room, the nobles a mixture of half blood and pure bred Drules. They ranged from the exotic, handsome and beautiful, to the gruesome, like monsters out of some nightmare. Allura suddenly wished she had hold of the guard’s arm, wanting to steady herself as she stared back at them, eyes flitting from person to person.
They didn’t look away from her gaze, boldly meeting her eyes with cold stares that had Allura quickly gazing elsewhere. A lady, dressed to the nines in twinkling jewels leaned into her companion’s tall frame, whispering something in his ear. Whatever she said, made the man break out into uproarious laughter, the Drule smirking as he boldly gazed at Allura.
Swallowing back the urge to run shaking from the room, Allura set her foot down on the carpet, noting it was a royal purple that was darker than the guard’s uniform. She tried to focus on details of the room, choosing to ignore the nobles, and the way they were staring, noting more and more were beginning to whisper loudly. The whispers made her paranoid, Allura sure they were talking about her, the girl staring straight ahead.
She held her head as high as she could manage, back stiff but straight, walking at a sedate pace. She wouldn’t let them cow her into running past them, Allura reminding herself that once she had been a princess, and that her blood ran just as worthy as theirs did.
She could see a Drule standing at the end of the long carpet, a withered old man dressed in maroon colored robes. His head was shaved bald, and his chin had the strangest beard she had ever seen, the black and gray hairs wound into a thin braid that hung straight down his chest, almost reaching his knees. Before him was a podium, and what she assumed was a crown underneath a silk cloth.
Behind him was a staircase, Allura noting how high a climb the steps were, and leading to a throne that sat situated a top a small dais. It would allow the one who sat on it the perfect view of the room, forcing all to look up at their king. The throne sat empty now, awaiting Lotor to take his rightful seat.
The whispers continued, voices growing louder as though the nobles were trying to attract her attention. Allura continued her attempts to ignore them, refusing to look to either side of her as she walked. She was almost to the end of the carpet, when she realized she had no idea where she was supposed to stand, the girl starting to slow in the hopes the guard would show her what to do.
“Allura!” The familiar voice of Haggar called out to her, the witch off to the side of the dais. She had been standing in the shadows of a pillar, unnoticeable until she announced herself. Allura smiled to see her, seeing Haggar had been given new clothing, her robes purple like the guards, with silver lining the sleeves, and making large swirling patterns on the skirt.
Haggar’s wore a beaming smile, oozing pride and confidence over her increased status. Allura wished some of that confidence could rub off onto her, the girl striding towards her friend. Haggar reached out to snag Allura’s hand, giving her a squeeze in greeting as she looked Allura over. “You look beautiful my dear. I see Lotor has spared no expense in getting you ready for tonight.”
“Thank you.” Allura said, fighting not to blush at Haggar’s praise. “You look very nice. It’s so good to see you out of those dismal robes!”
“The witch of the king has to dress accordingly.” Smirked Haggar, smoothing a hand down the front of her robes. “You should have heard how these nobles talked, when they saw me enter the room!”
“If it’s anything like the welcome I just received, I am glad to have missed it.” Allura said, causing Haggar to make a tsking sound.
‘They’re just jealous of you.”
“Jealous? Of me?” her eyes widened in amazement, Haggar nodding her head.
“Of course! Who else has the king’s ear, who else but you holds his undivided attention?” Haggar asked, Allura shrugging her shoulders. “The ladies alone would envy you for your closeness to Lotor. A closeness they will be hard pressed to ruin, considering you carry his heirs. Oh fear not…” Haggar added hastily, seeing Allura’s expression. “They dare not do anything to place you or your babies in jeopardy. Not if they want to keep their heads.”
A little leery of this subject, Allura sighed, not liking the thought that she could inspire jealousy in the women of the court. “Come Allura…” Haggar was gesturing her to follow, the witch walking closer to the dais. That set off a wave of protesting murmurs from the nobles, Haggar shooting them a cocky grin. “We’ll have the second best seat in the house over here.”
“Are you sure it’s okay for us to stand here?” Allura asked, noting they stood less than a foot away from the old man guarding the podium.
“Of course! His highness will want to see us.” Haggar stayed close to Allura, her voice whispering loudly in her ears. “Look at them.” Her tone had turned snide, the witch disgusted with the nobles. “Already scrambling to get the king’s favor. You see how they abandoned Zarkon’s colors?”
Allura looked, and to her surprise realized there was little to be found of the bold red and stark black the former king favored. Instead the nobles were dressed more colorfully than they had been in a long time, Lotor not showing a preference for any one color. Haggar continued to whisper in her ear, pointing out changes Lotor had made to the throne room. Allura could only nod, having never been inside the throne room before this day.
“Oh look…there is that bitch Murusia.” Haggar grumbled, not quite pointing at a pretty Drule female who turned as though sensing their eyes on her. She boldly met Allura’s curious gaze, giving a cool nod of her head in greetings. Flustered by the acknowledgment, Allura nodded back, even as Haggar grumbled. “She’s as big a fortune hunter as they come, and now that Lotor is king, she has her eye on him. If I was you, I’d be careful of this one.”
“I…I will.” Promised Allura, spying the two aides of Lotor entering the room. The nobles barely paid them any mind, back to talking loudly amongst themselves, Allura seemingly no longer entertaining enough to hold their attention. The aides hurried to the sides of the doors, whispering in the ears of the two young Drules, barely into teenage hood. The boys were clad in matching silver tunics, the royal crest decorated their backs. They carried bronze colored trumpets in hand, and they stepped towards the sides of the doors, bringing their instruments to their lips.
“It begins!” exclaimed Haggar with an excited hiss, the boys trumpeting out a song. The music drew the nobles attention back to the doors, Allura spying Lotor’s guards walking forward. The king was not yet in view, but his soldiers entered the room, taking up space on either side of the carpet. They formed two lines in all, Allura realizing it was protective rows that would keep the nobles from approaching Lotor.
The music changed, the boys playing a brief note that the nobles recognized as the king’s anthem. Their voices grew louder, excited as they waited for Lotor to appear. He did not keep them waiting long, the King walking towards the throne room, face serious. He wore no crown, his hair tied back. He didn’t run, though surely he was eager to claim his crown. Allura understood that the ceremony was just a formality, Lotor already king in all the ways that counted.
The court held back their cheers as Lotor began the walk down the carpet, the king staring straight ahead. Allura wondered if he noticed her, watching with held breath as Lotor reached the podium. To her surprise, Lotor went down on one knee, bowing his head in submission before the man. The old Drule nodded in approval, clawed fingers stroking at his braided beard.
“Your highness…” The bearded Drule began, voice gravely serious. “Do you swear to do honor to the throne of Doom?”
“Do you swear to uphold it’s laws? Will you continue to usher the empire into prosperity?” Question after question came, Lotor answering yes to them all. The ceremony seemed to go on forever, minutes dragging by as the Drule dragged out more promises from Lotor. But at last, he sighed, and reached for the silk covering, jerking it off to reveal a crown that was quite different from the one Lotor normally wore.
It was, Allura realized, a ceremonial crown, covered in jewels that would surely weight it down on one’s head. The bearded Drule picked up the crown, moving to approaching the kneeling king. Lotor continued to look down, the Drule’s hands starting to shake as he placed the crown on top of Lotor’s head. “Rise your highness.” He urged Lotor. “Rise and present yourself to the court.”
Now Lotor looked up, his eyes flashing as they reflected the light of the room. He showed no signs of difficulty in having knelt for so long, the king easily standing up. The nobles began to cheer, breaking out into wild applause as they welcomed the new king to his throne. For one brief instant, Lotor met Allura’s gaze, and then he was turning to gaze at his people.
Those aides of his were hurrying to him, appearing at his sides to whisper in Lotor’s ear. The king nodded, and a gesture from him had the nobles reacting, the men and women quieting down as they realized now was the time for them to personally swear fealty to the king. The aides took turns announcing each noble, the various heads of the house representing whole familles. They would approach Lotor, bending over his hand to kiss his ring. A few words would be exchanged with the king, pleasantries that extended beyond the promises they made to the throne.
Allura watched as each head took their turn with the king, Lotor’s face never betraying what he felt about the men and women before him. Not even when he was confronted with those who had allied with Zarkon, Allura wondering how he could keep so stoic an expression knowing what he was going to do tonight. It was perhaps good she didn’t know what the traitors looked like, Allura sure her face would have betrayed her feelings to them.
It took over an hour for the procession of nobles to end, Lotor finally making his way up the staircase. She craned her neck back to watch him, Lotor taking his seat on the throne amidst cheers. His aides clapped their hands together, and servants appeared, common birth Drules who carried trays of snacks out to the nobles. No slaves were permitted to attend the ceremony, not even the dancing girls.
The nobles were mingling, enjoying the refreshments offered, and talking to each other. Allura kept glancing back at Lotor, thinking how lonely it must be to sit upon the throne of Doom. He was so isolated from everyone on the dais, Allura knowing that on Arus, her parents had always kept close enough to their court to be able to converse with their subjects.
She sighed, and shook her head no when a servant offered her a drink, Allura finding she had no appetite, nor thirst this night. Instead she kept wondering when the executions would take place, wondering and worrying, her hands coming together so that she could twist at her fingers. Lotor seemed content to let the court carry on with their merry making, leaving her to wonder if he had changed his mind.
She needn’t have hoped for that, for after a suitable amount of time had passed, Lotor was standing. Relaxed though the court was, they were all attuned to the king’s every action, the nobles falling quiet to see Lotor standing. He smiled down at his people, the expression pure menace, sending a shiver through Allura.
“A moment of your time, my loyal subjects.” Lotor’s voice carried down to his people, the king stressing certain words. “There are some among you who…have earned special recognition on this night.” That got the nobles murmuring, looking around as they wondered just who Lotor was talking about. He waited a heart’s beat, letting the curiosity build. “Would Duke Shibata, Lady Meralabeth, and Lord Reqint approach the throne?”
The nobles turned to look for the named nobles, the two lords and the lady pushing their way through the crowds. They held the look of uncertainty on their faces, Allura wondering if they suspected what was going to happen. If they wanted to run, they had no chance, there was too many guards lining the path to the exits.
Lotor waited, arms hanging by his sides, gazing down as the trio approached the dais. The podium had been cleared away, leaving nothing but empty space for the lady and the lords to kneel. Lotor nodded his approval at this show of submission, a calculating look in his eyes. “You are to be…commended on your services the night I took the throne.”
“The aid you lent was invaluable…” Lotor continued, Allura hearing the whispers from the nobles. Some of them were getting upset, thinking it unfair for Lotor to select these three to reward. They still hadn’t realized something was wrong, Allura wishing Lotor wouldn’t drag this out for much longer. “The time, money, and people given up.” Another pause, Lotor’s threatening smile fading. “I’m sure my father was quite pleased with your efforts.”
“Sire?” One of the Lords asked, confused.
“It’s a pity for you and him that it wasn’t enough to turn the tide of battle in his favor.” Lotor had stepped down the first step of the dais, eyes narrowed as he gazed at the trio.
“What are you saying?” Meralabeth asked, voice gasping out her question.
“Don’t take that tone with me!” Lotor snapped. “Innocence does not suit you, my lady!” She huffed at that, insulted. Lotor talking over her noise. “What the court may or may not be aware of is this. Someone betrayed my plans to my father. This same someone not only told him what was to happen, but lent him men, money and weapons. A great many died that night…lives wasted on a fight that should not have happened. Even members of the court were involved, and all because three little birds could not keep quiet.”
The court was murmuring their astonishment, a none too subtle shift away from the members of the accused households. “What proof do you have?!” One of the lords asked, and Lotor smiled.
“Ah Reqint, I am so glad you asked.” He snapped his fingers, an aide hurrying forth with papers. Papers he began distributing through the crowd of nobles, the men and women reading off the crimes listened, and the names attached to the betrayal. “You’ll find money does little to buy silence when one is in the hands of the dungeon master.”
“These are trumped up charges!” The one that must have been Duke Shibata cried out. “You got these confessions under duress.”
“It is surely a plot by the real betrayers!” added Meralabeth, wringing her hands together. “They seek to cast the blame on others. King Lotor I am innocent of this crime!”
“As am I!” Reqint cried out.
“There’s more…” Lotor told them. “A substantial amount of money from the treasury is missing. Money my father paid you.”
“You think your father would be fool enough to leave a paper trail?” demanded Meralabeth.
“Why would he bother to hide it, if he was sure he would come out the victor that night?” Lotor countered with a question of his own. “The money was found wired to a private account….can you guess whose name is on those accounts?”
“No…” whispered Meralabeth, looking fearful. Lord Reqint didn’t even try to deny it, bolting upright in an attempt to flee the room. The guards were quickly there, blocking his way with their swords.
“Guilty conscience Reqint?” Lotor asked, looking amused.
“Damn fool!” swore Shibata. “You’ve incriminated us with your useless attempts to flee.”
“I’m no greater a fool than you!” Reqint shot back. “I told you we should have left Doom the instant Zarkon was killed. It was you and the lady Meralabeth who insisted we would not be found out!” Meralabeth looked distressed to have her name attached to such a scheme, a tiny whimper escaping her.
“King Lotor…” She began, voice hesitant and uncertain. “Please have mercy…we..”
“You what?” Lotor demanded, crossing his arms over his chest. “What possible reason could you give me to excuse your betrayal?” The lady merely purses her lips together, falling silent at his question.
Reqint was forced back on his knees, several guards surrounding the trio. The two men looked outraged, but Meralabeth looked resigned to her fate. “Take heed of my words.” Lotor’s voice was booming, a terrifying quality to it. “The houses of Requint, Meralabeth, and Shibata are no more. I hearby strip all members of their rank and fortune. Let them live out their lives as paupers.”
“Tis a great mercy Lotor shows them.” Haggar whispered to Allura, sounding amazed. “His father would have annihilated every last member of each house for this betrayal.”
Allura was thankful for this mercy of Lotor’s, even as she knew what had to be coming next. The nobles who had lost their rank were protesting, guards pushing into the crowd to apprehend them. Several of Lotor’s personal guards remained guarding the kneeling three, and the court could not maintain it’s quiet.
“Silence!” Shouted one of the aides, glaring at the court. “You will listen to the king’s words!”
“Your people will be spared, but you three? Ah…” Lotor chuckled. “You three are not so fortunate. Make peace with your gods, you die tonight.” The guards drew their swords, expressions merciless as they made ready to thrust. Allura heard a soft sound, and realized she was whimpering, Haggar reacting to her noise.
“I have to stop this.” She said it more to herself than Haggar, but still the witch gasped.
“You can’t!” Hagger hissed, grabbing hold of Allura’s wrist. She sank her claws into Allura’s skin, the pain stealing Allura’s voice. For one as old as the witch, her strength surprised Allura, Haggar keeping her from breaking free. “You cannot be seen second guessing Lotor’s decisions. To do so would weaken him before the court.”
“But nothing!” snapped Haggar, her other hand landing on Allura’s shoulder. She was effectively keeping Allura in place, blocking her from running out onto the carpet. All Allura could do was stand and watch what was about to happen, the girl shaking her head no again and again.
“Any last words?” An aide asked, and a defiant fire came to Meralabeth’s eyes.
“You are weak Lotor!” She snarled, a mocking quality to her voice. “What king shows mercy? What king suffers the families of his enemies to live?! Ha! Zarkon would have been a million times more ruthless than you!”
“Silence!” screamed the aide, but Lotor stopped him.
“Let her speak.”
“The whole court knows it.” She continued, suddenly glaring in Allura’s direction. Allura went still with shock to suddenly be the center of attention, paling at Meralabeth’s words. “And we know why. It’s HER fault. That human slave of yours. She’s made you soft, weakened you. Is it any wonder some of us sought to align ourselves with your father?!” She spit in Allura’s direction, a half hysterical laugh escaping her. “Lotor, you are the one who should have died that night. You and that slave of yours!”
“Enough!” Lotor roared, and was dropping his hand. The guards responded to his signal, stabbing forth with their swords. At the first penetrating thrust, Allura shut her eyes, though she could not block out the screams. She could hear the nobles cheering, an undercurrent of fear to their voices. The screaming continued, Allura hearing the sound of swords hacking away at something. She refused to open her eyes and see what, swaying dizzily on her feet. Haggar continued to hold her, and when Allura gave in to the urge to pass out, her body nearly dragged the witch down with her to the floor.