Freedom 19

 

The Castle of Lions was now in view, a sparkling white edifice of smooth stone, and high turrets. A flag waved from the highest point, flapping in the breeze stirred up by their ship’s descent. Allura frowned to see that flag, missing the red and blue colors of her planet, seeing instead the gray and dark blue of Planet Doom. It was not just the flag that had been replaced, banners hung all around the castle, folded neatly over balconies, draping in graceful curves. They too were the color of Doom, and Allura let out a dismayed sound to see her family’s crest replaced with Zarkon’s.

What had once been a colorful shield featuring two golden lions, was now a dismal dark shade, featuring an evil grinning skull. It’s red eyes all but gleamed with power, and it’s toothy grin was full of malevolent cruelty. It reminded Allura of Zarkon’s smile, the girl shuddering, unable to keep from remaining unaffected in the face of it. Lotor noticed, his hands coming up on her shoulders, the prince pressing against her from behind.

“It’s nothing.” Allura told him, letting her fists grip the guard rail so tightly that color bled out of her knuckles. She tore her eyes away from the crest, trying to see if there was any other changes done to her beloved castle. It’s outside appearance showed little aside from the banners, but there was a distinct lack of people walking about the grounds. She supposed they were hiding in their homes, frightened to see the Doom ships so close to the planet’s surface.

The engines were humming, sounding louder than ever as they echoed their sounds in her ears. The ship occasionally let out mighty groans, metal creaking ominously as the ship labored to set down gently on the ground. Allura tensed in the last few moments, Lotor’s fingers working to massage at her skin, her husband placing a kiss in her hair as he tried to soothe her.

Other ships were in view, landing ahead of them on the castle’s front lawn. Tight with tension, Allura watched as the ship’s extended their ramps, soldiers clad in Doom’s military garb exiting, weapons in hand. No guards emerged from the castle, no reaction from the people inside, leaving Allura to wonder if it had been abandoned.

“My men are securing the castle for us now.” Lotor explained, lips brushing her ear as he spoke to her. “They will flush out any signs of resistance.”

“They won’t kill anyone, will they?” Allura asked, troubled.

“No, they will merely detain them.” Lotor assured her. “Their weapons are set to stun only.” She seemed to sag against him with relief, Lotor’s hands holding her up so she did not fall backwards. “Easy Allura.” Lotor said, concern in his tone. “Perhaps you should rest before we disembark the ship.”

“I’m fine.” Allura insisted, even though she was practically swooning in his arms. She stood up, back straight, staring at the castle. “I’m just eager to see Coran and Nanny.”

“Hmm…yes. Some familiar faces should do wonders for your mood.” Lotor agreed.

“My mood?” She asked, turning to glance at him. His expression was serious, gold eyes intent on her face.

“You’ve been depressed Allura. Anyone could see that.” He pointed out to her, making her sigh. “Being back on Arus should be good for you. Very….uplifting.”

“That remains to be seen.” She murmured, another glance at the castle. Lotor followed her gaze, seeming to take in the castle with new eyes.

“It bothers you.” He stated, Allura nodding in agreement. “Seeing the changes done to your home.”

“How could it not?” Allura demanded. “Seeing those banners in place…My family crest is gone, my hated enemy’s men lurking on the grounds, armed with weapons ready to hurt anyone who dares put up a fight. This is not the Arus I left…this is something else.”

“Something better.” Lotor said, Allura’s lips flattening into a thin line of disproval. She wondered how he could think that, knowing he could not know the pain in her heart at seeing the castle this way. “Allura, you’ll see…Arus will thrive under our rule, it will become the envy of the other kingdoms.”

“I never wanted to incur the envy of others.” She replied. “I just wanted my people safe and happy.”

“And you will have that!” Lotor told her, a hint of boasting in his tone. “All that and more!”

She sighed, realizing he really did not understand her simple desires, Allura wondering what sort of empire he hoped to build Arus into. “I can’t wait any longer.” She announced, letting go of the guard rail. “I have to get off this ship.” She tried to step past him, Lotor snagging her around the waist, drawing her back against him.

“Hold Allura!” He laughed, arms wrapping around her to hug her from behind. “No need to be so impatient. My men will be finished soon enough.”

“At least let us wait by the ramp.” Begged Allura, reaching up to touch the arms that held her trapped against him. “So we can depart immediately.”

“All right.” Lotor agreed, and with that he was releasing her. She didn’t get very far, not more than a few footsteps when he caught up with her. His eyes were dancing with amusement, Lotor offering her his arm. She took it, folding her hand over the bend in his arm. And so connected they moved, walking at a pace much slower than Allura would have liked.

Down the steps they went, and through the long narrow hallway, coming across armed soldiers guarding the ramp. They saluted at the sight of Lotor, the prince pausing to speak to them. She realized he was using basic for her benefit, a fact that she was grateful for since it allowed Allura the chance to understand and take part of the conversation.

“Has there been any news?” Lotor asked, and one of the guards shook his head no.

“The airwaves are silent. No sign of trouble yet.”

“Good.” Lotor smiled, Allura glancing at him. He was entirely calm and at ease. “What about the preparations? Are they done?”

“Preparations? What preparations?” questioned Allura.

“Just seeing towards my men’s room and board.” Lotor explained. “We have a lot of men with us, and need somewhere to house them. For now I think they will remain on the ships except for patrols.”

“I see.” Allura said, relieved they weren’t about to evict people from their homes to house Doom’s soldiers.

“In the coming weeks we will be setting up our first settlements.” Continued Lotor. “For now we will scout out the land, looking for suitable areas to build upon the first Drule villages.”

“You tend to keep our two peoples apart?” Allura asked, not sure how she felt about this segregation of the two races.

“Only for a time.” Lotor answered. “I doubt your people would want to move into Drule settlements, and for now I do not want to upset the balance of peace by forcing my people into the towns of the humans.”

“How do you intend to feed all these extra hungry mouths?” Allura asked, easily slipping into the concerned ruler role. She was already working the angles out in her mind, knowing that many of this season’s crops had been ruined by fire from the Doom’s ships, or crushed underfoot by Voltron battling Doom’s robeasts. The people had been taxed to their limits, Arus needing their gold in order to import supplies from other planets.

“We’ve brought some food with us, but of course we will need to bring in supplies from elsewhere.” Lotor told her. “Fear not Allura, I know about Arus’ current crop state.” A chuckle then. “Doom is after all responsible for the famine your people have experienced this season.”

“That’s not something to be proud of!” Her temper flared, Allura glaring at Lotor.

“Of course my people will help yours replant crops. I dare say with a little hard work and effort, Arus will no longer need to line other planets’ coffers with Arusian gold.” Lotor said, choosing to ignore her angry remark.

Mollified for the moment, Allura nodded her head. “What of the people who have been rendered homeless by Doom’s attacks? Where will they be housed?”

“Where have you been having them live?” Lotor asked, and she hesitated, knowing he would not like her answer.

“In the castle.”

“The castle?” A lift of his eyebrow, Lotor looking disdainful. “No, that cannot be allowed. There needs to exist some boundaries between rulers and their people. We will simply have to find shelter for them elsewhere.”

“But why?” Allura demanded. “The castle is huge, there is plenty of space to offer them. More than I could ever hope to use.”

“Allura no. I must put my foot down on this.” Lotor said. “I will not risk my life or yours by allowing rabble to wander the halls freely.”

“They would never harm me!” She argued. “And to turn them away is to condemn them back to the caves!”

“I’ll offer to house them on one of my ships.” Lotor said, and Allura shook her head no.

“They will never agree to that!”

“But why?” Lotor wanted to know. “It is a viable option, a safe, warm place for them to rest their heads.”

“Past experience has shown once you board a Doom ship, you end up being whisked away to some far off planet.” Allura remark, knowing her expression was one of frustration. “They will not take such a risk.”

“Then they are fools.” Lotor said bluntly, making her frown at him. “Allura, I am sorry, but it’s the truth. If they cannot see that boarding a Doom ship is better than being left out in the cold of night, then…” He shrugged, clearly not bothered by the thought of her people suffering the night’s chill winds. His attitude made her sigh, Allura wringing her hands together, worried.

“Now….Allura, is there any other concerns you may have?” Lotor asked, and she shook her head no. “I’m sure you will think of others. Know that I am willing to hear you out at any time, night or day.”

“I know. I’ll be sure to bring up any other problems my people may have.” She left off the part that implied the problems were directly caused by Doom. She glanced away from Lotor, seeing the guards were watching them, curious by their exchange. Out the window she could see the front gate of the Castle of Lions, left open, inviting all to enter. She supposed that would soon change under Doom’s rule, her people turned away at the gates, refused aid in the their time of need.

“Come now Allura, no need to be sighing.” Lotor said, his voice intruding on her thoughts. “You are home! You should be happy!”

“I am happy.” Allura protested, but Lotor frowned.

“Then why is there no smile on your lovely face?” His hand raised, fingers brushing against her lips. She took a step back to avoid his teasing touch. “Such a gloomy countenance.” He grumbled.

“I will smile when you give me reason to, and not a moment sooner.” Allura told him, which only made his frown deepen.

“Allura….” He trailed off, his words lost as the comm unit let loose with a message. The words were spoken in Drule, leaving Allura to wonder at their meaning. Lotor smiled, and held out his hand, waiting for her to take hold of it. “Ah…Seems the castle grounds have checked out. It is safe to depart the ship.”

~Finally!~ thought Allura, taking hold of Lotor’s hand. The soldiers moved, turning to surround them as Lotor barked out an order.

“Lower the ramp!”

His words were quickly obeyed, the ramp making a whirring sound as it began to unfold, extending it’s length to touch the ground. Soldiers were milling about the ship, lining up in two rows that extended all the way to the castle gate. As one entity, they moved, Lotor and Allura walking down the ramp, their movements slowed down by the soldiers that circled around them.

As they passed through the center of the rows, the soldiers saluted them, standing at rigid attention as they watched the royal couple breeze by. Allura felt a little overwhelmed by all this security, not liking the Drule soldiers crowding so close to her. Lotor seemed unperturbed, walking with his eyes staring straight ahead at the castle.

Moving at their current pace, it felt as though it took an eternity to reach the gates. The rows collapsed as they passed by, bringing up their rear as they followed close behind. They passed through the archway of the castle, Lotor pausing to look around curiously at the interior of her home. The halls were all light gray in metal, looking hi tech and sterile, though she knew that behind the doors, the rooms were anything but with their warm, soft colors and homey touches.

A signal from Lotor, the soldiers dispersing, leaving them standing unguarded inside the castle. The guards took up positions along the wall, Lotor guiding her to the right, leading her towards the grand hall of her castle. It was a large room, the floors above it removed to convey a sense of high ceilings. There was a balcony overlooking the room, positioned to be about where the third floor would have been. Allura had often stepped out on that balcony, giving speeches to her downtrodden people, her words meant to inspire.

Now the hall was empty, their footsteps echoing loudly as they walked. Allura couldn’t help but note how strange it felt to be here on the arm of her long time enemy. Even stranger was the fact he was now her husband, Lotor smiling and looking around with interest at the paintings hanging on the walls. Allura was relieved to see the familiar faces of her family still lined the grand hall’s walls. It seemed there had been little interest in defacing the portraits of the former rulers of Arus.

And still Lotor moved her, leading her deeper into her home, his walk confidant as though he had lived here all his life. It made her wonder how familiar he truly was with the castle, remembering the sole time he had been inside her home. He had broken into her bedroom, chasing her out into the hall. Her guards had tried to stop him, many losing their lives before the prince departed of his own choosing.

That time had often given her nightmares, Allura thinking on how close he had come to whisking her away. It had been all for naught, her flight from him that day had only succeeded in delaying the inevitable.

Another glance at Lotor, seeing him studying a portrait of her parents, a young Allura held between them, a happy, carefree smile on her face. “You have your father’s smile.” He said at last, and she nodded in agreement.

“Yes. Though most people only see my mother when they look at me.” Allura confessed.

“I can see why. You share many of her features although….” He looked at her now, eyes twinkling with mischief. “You are ten times as beautiful as she.” Allura blushed, unsure of how to react to the compliment. No one had ever told her she out did her mother when it came to their looks, Allura always feeling inadequate when she compared the two. Her mother’s hair had been blonder, her eyes a softer shade of blue.

“Thank you.” She said at last, ducking her head shyly so her hair fell forward. Lotor reacted, bringing his hand to brush back her hair, not allowing her to hide her expression from him.

“You’re welcome.” He grinned, and once again began leading her onwards. Allura got the surprise of her life when they stepped into the adjoining corridor, seeing the castle servants lined up against the walls. A look of expectation was in their eyes, they turned at the sound of their footsteps, nervous smiles crossing their faces. They were glad to see her, she could tell by the looks on their faces. But their joy was short-lived at the sight of the man on her arm, fear making them hold back from approaching her.

Her eyes went over each and every one of the gathered servants’ faces. She saw her personal maids, Emma and Marie, the girls dropping into curtsey’s at seeing Allura’s attention on them. Butlers and castle cleaners, command center workers, even the cook, they were all here. All except the guards who had been a part of her life for so long.

She idly wondered what they would do, now that they were out of a job. But her thoughts soon fled as she spied two familiar and welcome faces at the end of the hall. “Nanny!” Allura cried, breaking free of Lotor’s hold to go rushing down the corridor. She nearly tripped over her own skirts, moving with such haste and speed. “Coran!” She couldn’t help it, the tears had started, streaming down her cheeks as she ran towards her caregivers.

They stepped away from the wall, Nanny’s own cheeks wet with tears and even Coran’s eyes looked a little wet as she approached them. With a half sob she was throwing her arms around the stout woman, hugging her tightly while Coran stood to the side, waiting patiently for his hug. He got it and more, Allura gracing his cheek with a kiss, finding her Nanny spinning her around.

Brown eyes looked her over critically, a frown appearing on her face as she noticed the low cut neckline of the emerald colored dress Allura wore. But the woman held back her complaints, instead choosing to focus on the color of Allura’s skin.

“Ack the poor child is so pale.” Nanny shot a pointed look at Lotor, who had followed hot on Allura’s heels. “No doubt the brute has been keeping you out of the sun.” A tsking sound, Nanny turning back to look at Allura. “And you look like you haven’t been sleeping….”

“I’m fine Nanny. Just a little tired.” Allura said.

“How are you Princess Allura?” Coran asked, also giving her the once over. “Is….married life treating you well?”

“You mean am I treating her well.” Lotor interjected, coming to put a possessive arm across Allura’s shoulders. Nanny gasped, and issued a command.

“Don’t you touch the princess!”

“Don’t tell me what to do.” Snapped Lotor, pulling Allura close to his side as he glowered at her nanny. “Need I remind you she’s my wife now? I can do what I want with her.” Nanny made an outraged sound, her face turning an interesting shade of red as she glared at the prince.

“Nanny, please….remember your blood pressure!” urged Coran, a hand on the woman’s shoulder.

“Nanny please don’t make yourself sick with worry.” Added Allura, her words seeming to calm the woman down slightly. “Lotor….if you don’t mind, I’d like a moment alone with my friends.”

“I suppose it can be arranged.” Lotor said, though his frown said he didn’t like the idea. “If you would show us to a private room?”

“The conference room is just at the end of the hall.” Coran said, gesturing.

“Take us there.” Lotor ordered, and Coran nodded, his face exerting careful control of his emotions. Lotor continued to hold onto Allura, making her walk with him as they moved down the hall. Nanny stuck close to her side, sending disapproving glares at Lotor, the prince ignoring the woman for the most part. Upon reaching the conference room, Lotor paused, making a show of hugging Allura.

Nanny’s lips pursed together, eyes flashing with anger. Allura was just grateful Lotor didn’t try to kiss her in front of the woman, the princess pulling free of her husband’s embrace. “What will you be doing?” Allura asked worried.

“Oh, there’s always some matter of work to be done.” Lotor told her, hands brushing back her hair. She felt as though every movement of his was calculated to get a rise out of her nanny, the woman muttering things under her breath in her native language. “I’ll be back in an hour’s time. Will that be enough?”

“More than enough.” Allura agreed, and reached for his hand. “Thank you Lotor.” He smiled, pleased at her touch, even as Nanny made scoffing sounds.

“An hour Allura. I’ll see you then.” Lotor turned briskly, marching back the way they had come. Allura was barely free of him, and already Nanny was dragging her inside the room, Coran quick to shut the door behind them.

“It’s good to see you away from that devil!” Nanny exclaimed tugging Allura over to a chair. Allura sank down into it’s plush embrace, once again feeling her eyes well up with happy tears. “We’ve been worrying about you non stop. I’ve hardly been able to eat or sleep since you’ve been gone!”

“These have been trying times.” Coran sighed. “We’ve feared for your safety.”

“Lotor wouldn’t hurt me.” Allura was quick to say, and Nanny gasped.

“He has you believing his lies!”

“No….never that.” Allura shook her head. “But I believe he is sincere when it comes to my safety. His father, however….” She shuddered, remembering his threats on her wedding day.

“Zarkon is a fiend. Thank goodness you are back on Arus where you belong.” Coran said. “Though I am afraid it is an Arus changed.”

“What has gone on in my absence?” Allura asked, curiosity at the heart of her question. “How are my people adapting to this new regime?”

“Not very well at all.” Coran admitted. “There has been….riots in the city, people attacking Doom soldiers. The people hate seeing the castle bearing Zarkon’s insignias, and they scream for a change back to the old ways.”

“Riots?” Allura was surprised, her people were normally so peaceful.

“Lotor didn’t tell you?” Coran asked.

“It’s just like him to keep you in the dark.” Grumbled Nanny.

“No, he didn’t. But that would explain all the precautions he took when we arrived at the castle.” Allura said musingly. “He must have been afraid of some sort of attack…”

“I wouldn’t be surprise if there wasn’t an assassination attempt on the young prince’s life.” Coran’s words made Allura gasp, Nanny nodding her head in approval.

“It would serve him right. Then you would be free Allura.”

“Nanny!” exclaimed Allura, shocked at the woman advocating such a thing. “We will only beget more violence and troubles for our people if such a thing were to happen! Just what are you thinking?”

“I’m thinking of you!” The woman said, eyes passionate. “Better to be a widow, than to be tied in a loveless marriage!”

“No…that won’t solve anything.” Allura told her. “Zarkon would most likely kill me if something were to happen to Lotor. And I…I don’t want to see him dead. He has been kind to me, all things considered.”

“Just what has been going on between you two?” Coran asked sharply, a piercing glance in his eyes.

“Nothing much.” Allura said, fighting not to blush. Her Nanny’s perceptive eyes caught her unease, the woman letting out a loud sob. Allura and Coran looked at the woman, questions in their eyes.

“I just can’t bear the thought of it.” Nanny exclaimed, reaching for the hem of her apron. She brought it up to her face, burying her head in the white material, shoulders shaking as she sobbed. “That awful brute touching you! Doing God only knows what to you!”

“Nothing has happened.” Allura said, knowing her nanny wouldn’t be able to handle the truth of what had happened between her and Lotor.

“There is no need to lie to us Allura.” Coran said, frowning. “We know how he feels about you.”

“I’m sure he couldn’t even wait for the wedding before he assaulted you.” Nanny sniffled, Allura reaching over to pat the woman’s shoulder. “The poor child!”

“Nanny, please don’t cry.” Allura begged. “He hasn’t….hasn’t done anything to me…yet. We haven’t even consummated the marriage.”

“You haven’t?” The woman lifted her face from her apron, staring searchingly at Allura’s face. At her nod, the woman sighed, relieved. “Thank the Gods!”

“But I can’t put him off forever…”

“Why not?” demanded Nanny, hands on her hips.

“Well….” Allura shifted, uncomfortable. “He’s my husband. There are….duties expected of me. Heirs to be made.” Nanny looked on the verge of letting loose another round of sobbing, Allura preparing herself for the woman’s wails.

“You can’t bear that demon’s children!”

“We’ve put in for aid to the Federation.” Coran said, over Nanny’s loud crying. “So far they are refusing to help us. I’m sorry princess…the treaty seems to be an iron clad agreement between the two planets.”

“I already knew that.” Allura sighed. “Lotor and Zarkon made sure to do everything by the rule book. I have no choice but to make the best of my situation.”

“But how can you be so calm?” Nanny asked.

“To be anything else would bring dishonor to me and my family.” Allura said at last. Coran nodded his head in approval at her words.

“Though your father would be less than pleased by the events that have happened, I know he would be proud of you for the way you have conducted yourself.”

“Thank you Coran.” Allura allowed a small smile to cross her face. “Your words mean a lot to me.”

Nanny was frowning, hardly appeased by the situation at hand. “I think we should run.” Allura and Coran stared at her surprised. “The first chance we get, flee the castle. Your people will hide you. They’ll protect you from Lotor and Zarkon.”

“My people will die if I do that.” Allura said, horrified by the thought. “I cannot ask them to do this, nor should you.”

“But…”

“But nothing!” Allura snapped. “I will not run. I will keep my head high and remain where my people can see me.” Nanny looked like she wanted to object, but some noises were heard, nervous high pitch squeaking, something small and furry brushing against Allura’s feet. She gasped and glanced down, seeing four pairs of eyes blinking up at her.

“Cheddar! Cheesy! Chitter! Pip!” Allura laughed in true delight, bending down so her hand was offered to the mice. They squealed in excitement, running up her sleeve, little claws digging into the material. She deposited them on the table, the four mice dancing about in front of her, all chattering away, clearly trying to tell her all of what had gone on in her absence.

“I missed you too little ones.” Allura said, smiling down at her furred friends. Nanny frowned, but for once did not offer a cruel word against the mice’s appearance. Allura was grateful for that, badly in need of the distraction the mice sought to offer her. Giggling, she stroked her fingers down Cheddar’s head, the mouse practically cooing at the attention she bestowed on him.

She couldn’t help herself, glancing at the room’s clock, the hour being counted down faster than she would like. The mice chattered, trying to regain her attention, and she let them. Allura determined to not worry about Lotor’s return until it actually happened. She was with her friends, her family, and right now that was all that mattered.


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