The over head roar of the lion’s engines seemed to drown out all sound, Lotor raising an eyebrow in surprise at his commander’s words. Merack was nodding his head, expression grim as he repeated himself.
“We have caught you your assassin.”
“Her?” Allura’s voice, shock at the heart of her tone. She was drawing nearer to Lotor’s back, her hand placed on his arm. Lotor wasn’t sure if Allura was seeking comfort or attempting to restrain him in case he lost his temper.
Conscious of Allura’s presence against his back, he stared down at the woman who was on her knees before him. She glared, her emerald eyes defiant, her lips curling back in a sneer. Never had Lotor seen such a look on her face, the prince intimately familiar with this woman and her moods. It was odd seeing her so covered up, the woman wearing the high collar, low skirt uniform of a maid. He was used to seeing her in the briefest of silks, slips of colorful material on her hips, or even better nothing at all. Looking at her like this, it was almost like seeing a stranger.
A stranger who bore an undeniable amount of hatred, Tamara’s staring daggers at Allura. The woman was struggling, black curls bobbing around her head, falling messily around her face as she fought against the hands holding her down.
Lotor was conscious of everyone looking at him, seeming to wait on his reaction. He held back a sigh, hands on his hips as he considered his words. “Tamara, what have you done?”
She wouldn’t look at him, all her focus was on Allura, hateful glares surely the likes of which his princess had never before received. A low growl escaped the woman, Tamara muttering something in her native language, Lotor not recognizing the words. It hardly mattered, her tone was enough to convey her intent, her animosity plain for all to see and hear.
“Tamara!” A short bark of anger from Lotor, the prince trying to draw her attention away from Allura. A quick look at him, her eyes softening slightly. They hardened almost instantly as she returned her attention to Allura. Tamara was so caught up in her hatred, she seemed oblivious to anything else, and that was dangerous, the woman seeming to damn herself with looks alone.
“Tamara, look at me.” Commanded Lotor, voice seeking to work it’s way past her anger in an attempt to appeal towards her rational side. “Is it true? Are you the one who tried to poison our food?”
A shifty look from the former harem slave, the girl refusing to meet his eyes. It was as though she knew she could not lie to him, not so long as he maintained eye contact with her. Annoyed, Lotor looked away from her, his attention back on his commander. “What proof do you bring me of this woman’s guilt?” He knew Merack would not just pull someone off of kitchen duty without just cause to accuse them.
“We found her trying to mix an unknown substance into this morning’s dessert.” Merack explained, hand reaching into his pocket. He withdrew a small jar, the glass bottom curved and containing a bright green liquid. Lotor took the jar from Merack’s hand, carefully opening the lid. He held it under his nose, an awful, pungent smell assaulting his nostrils. “Kichtrina root extract.” Merack said in response to the face Lotor made. “Of course, we are not one hundred percent positive but the smell alone hints at it being the poisonous extract.”
“Kichtrina root extract.” Lotor frowned, thinking of the withered roots that were among one of the only things that grew in the soil of planet Doom. It’s extract was rife with ill effects, even the Drules with their superb immune systems had a difficult time when exposed to the poison of the root. Humans were even worse off, the poison having instant and deadly effects on their body.
“Of course we intend to run tests on the liquid, just to ensure it really is the poison. However at this point, it’s more a formality than anything else.” Merack explained. “It’s plain to see she is guilty.”
“Guilty…” murmured Allura, still holding onto Lotor’s arm. “Are you sure there is no mistake? I mean…couldn’t she have been given that jar from someone else, tricked into adding it to the food?”
“She’s not even on kitchen duty.” Merack said, sharing a look with Lotor that said he thought the princess was naive. “She had no reason to be in that part of the castle.”
“But…” A protest from Allura, but Tamara was suddenly speaking, her accented voice hissing over the princess.
“Spare me your false pity!” She snapped, jerking hard against the hands on her shoulders. “I want nothing from you, least of all your mercy!”
“You have it just the same.” Allura replied, tone soft and compassionate.
“So now you speak?” demanded Lotor, looking at Tamara. She glanced at him, Lotor making his face a mask to hide his emotions as he looked back at the woman. “Tamara, do you not have anything to say for yourself?”
“I am innocent of this crime.” She announced, words sounded so confidant, so sure of herself. “I was merely adding some liquid extract to flavor the dessert. The cook asked me to help him prepare a Drule delicacy.”
“Really now?” Lotor held up the jar, the sunlight glinting off it. “And what sort of delicacy requires Kichtrina root extract?”
“It’s…you’re mistaken.” Tamara said, a bold faced lie escaping her lips. “It’s merely a bit of mint liquid.”
“Well, then, you certainly won’t mind demonstrating the harmlessness of this mint juice.” Lotor said, reaching to catch her chin with his left hand. He jerked her face up cruelly, bringing the jar towards her lips. A gasp behind him, Allura’s hand tightening on his arm.
“It’s merely a mint.” Lotor said, not turning to look at his wife. “Tamara herself said so. There should be no cause for worry if she speaks the truth.”
He ignored her attempting to pull him back, Lotor pressing the jar against Tamara’s sealed lips. A fine tremor wracked her body, and she fought against the grip on her chin, trying to turn her head away. Her eyes which had been so confidant now looked fearful, and the woman began struggling in earnest against the hands holding her down.
“Lotor stop!” Allura all but shrieked at him, his hand faltering, a splash of the green liquid dribbling down the woman’s chin. It fell, a fat drop of it landed on her uniform, bright green and harmless looking. At the distress in Allura’s voice, Lotor pulled the jar away, Tamara panicking as she shook her face, trying to dislodge the poison from her chin.
“Stop this.” Allura said plaintively, staring into his eyes. “There is no reason to torture this woman needlessly.”
“Torture? I have not lifted a hand against her.” Lotor retorted. “I merely want her to taste this concoction to back up her claims of innocence.”
“It’s cruel.” Whispered Allura, her eyes wide and brimming with unshed tears.
“Perhaps the princess should be excused from these proceedings.” Suggested Merack, the commander earning a sharp glare from Allura.
“No!” Allura shook her head. “I won’t leave just so you can…can do whatever you like!”
“Very well Allura. Stay…stay and witness what happens to assassins against the royal family.” Lotor told her, in no mood to argue with her.
“You can’t just…execute a person without proof.” Allura said stubbornly. “This is not Doom! We do things differently here!”
“And I can’t allow a threat against you to go unchallenged!” Lotor retorted.
“Please…throw her in the dungeon, lock her up for the rest of her life if you must, but don’t kill her!” Begged Allura. He said nothing, thinking her too kind towards the one who had tried to kill her, the one who had almost succeeded in killing him. “Please!” Allura said, voice urgent in response to his silence.
He heaved a weary sigh, aware of his men silent and watching his interaction with the princess. “All right fine. I’ll make a deal with you. She can stay in the dungeons….for now. I will have a full investigation conducted towards her motives, and whether or not that really is the poison we think it is.”
“Thank you!” Exclaimed Allura, sounding very relieved.
“Although I do think you should be saving your compassion for someone who wants it.” Lotor added, eyeing Tamara who continued to glare at Allura. “Take her away.” Lotor followed up his words with an order, watching as his men hauled the struggling woman to her feet.
“Lotor, I am innocent!” Tamara shouted, turning to look over her shoulder at him. The soldiers all but lifted her off the ground, dragging her away from the royal couple. “How can you do this to me?!”
“Be quiet woman!” snapped the Commander. “You should be thankful you are going to the dungeons and not to the executioner’s block!”
“Lotor please!” Tamara cried, ignoring Merack’s words. She was dragged through the doorway, the metal slamming shut behind her escort. It drowned out the rest of her screams, Lotor turning to look at Allura.
“Who is that woman?” She asked him, eyes curious. “And why does she hate me so?”
“I’m not sure, but I intend to find out.” Lotor said, aware of Merack standing near the doorway, eager to speak with him. “As for who she is, her name is Tamara. I..I never bothered to learn her last name. You see Allura, she was once part of my harem.”
“Your harem! The one I asked you to disband?”
“Yes. Tamara is one of the slaves I found a position for at the castle. Obviously that was a mistake to do.” Lotor said, a humorless snort of laughter escaping him.
“Can you tell me about her?” Allura asked. “I’d like to know her…It might help to better understand why she might do such a thing.”
“If you’re looking for details that extend beyond her bedroom skills, and such inconsequential things as her favorite color and perfume, than I’m afraid you are out of luck.” Lotor’s tone was blunt. “I didn’t bother to learn much about my harem slaves. They existed for my pleasure and there was no need to get caught up in the details of their lives.”
She did a slow blink of her eyes, unnerved by his words, surely taken back by the cold, calculating way he had dealt with his harem girls. “Then you never wondered, not even once, about her?” Lotor just shrugged his shoulders, Allura continuing. “Why did you even bother to find out things such as her favorite color then?”
“Merely to reward her with trinkets, little thank you tokens for when she pleased me.” Lotor answered.
“I see.” She pursed her lips together in a thin line of disapproval, her head shaking no. “Lotor…did you give her gifts often? Enough to mislead her into thinking you cared for her?”
“If that is what she thinks, than she is gravely mistaken.” Lotor replied, amused at the thought of caring for Tamara beyond her skills and insatiable appetite for pleasure.
“Lotor!” Allura sounded exasperated and he really didn’t understand why.
“Allura, finish your meal. I need to go check on some things.” Lotor said, pausing to graze his lips against her cheek in a quick kiss.
“Okay…” She didn’t make a move towards the table, just standing there watching him as he strode away. Merack already had the door open at Lotor’s approach, the Drule quick to follow Lotor down the stairs.
“Your highness…..do you really intend to allow this transgression to go unpunished?” Merack asked, the heels of his boots clicking loud on the stone steps.
“….I am merely exercising caution before doling out a suitable punishment.” Lotor replied.
“You are hesitating to kill her. Why?” Merack questioned. “Because the princess asked you too?” Lotor didn’t reply, turning the corner and taking the stairs down to the next level of the castle. “Permission to speak freely sire?”
“Granted.” Lotor said, his curt tone warning Merack that he should choose his words carefully.
“Prince Lotor….the princess….she is making you…soft.” Merack complained, Lotor letting out a sharp hiss as he turned to level a glare at his commander. “It’s the truth! Tossing assassins into the dungeon rather than killing them! That is not the Prince Lotor I know.”
“Careful Commander….you are treading dangerous waters.” Lotor snapped.
“I merely speak out of concern for you and your wife.” Merack told him. “It is my duty to see to your safety, and frankly, allowing the woman to live sends a message to other would be assassins that they can try such things with impunity.”
“Some would say spending their lives rotting in the palace dungeons would be enough to dissuade them.” Lotor retorted, resuming his walk down the stair case.
“A mere slap on the wrist, considering the crime.” Merack replied. “Lotor please. Reconsider. The princess need not know you killed her. Perhaps an accident can be arranged, one that would clear you of all incrimination. The woman herself may even choose to kill herself….”
“Would that we would be so fortunate.” Muttered Lotor as Merack trailed off. “No. Allura is not like other princesses. She takes a more hands on approach. She would follow up on Tamara’s well being, and if the woman were to suffer unduly, she would be suspicious.”
“I see.” Merack sighed. “What will you do now?”
“Now? Why I am going to pay Tamara a visit.” Lotor smirked. “I think she needs to see an old friend. She might speak more freely in my presence than to the guards, wouldn’t you say?”
“Yes, sire.” Merack agreed, following him down the last flight of stairs to the castle’s dungeons. It was different from Castle Doom, cleaner. It was all sparkling white walls, and light gray floors that cast reflections wherever one stepped. The air was climate controlled, a nice soothing temperature of seventy degrees. The cells themselves had metal bars, comfortable looking pallets that hung on chains from the wall, with clean bed sheets.
It was nothing like the dungeons Lotor was familiar with, Castle Doom bearing one of archaic design. There wasn’t even beds, the prisoners were more apt to sit with their hands chained over their heads. Rats and vermin crawled the dungeons, dirt floor covered in human filth and stank puddles. The prisoners of Doom were crowded into cells, and lucky if the guards remembered to feed them.
The cries of the captured, their screams of pain and moan of agonies were a constant sound track to the miserable atmosphere of Doom’s dungeon. Here in the Castle of Lions, it was quiet, peaceful, what few prisoners sleeping or otherwise busy. As far as prisons go, it would not be a hardship to stay in this castle’s dungeon.
The quiet was broken up with an outraged shriek, Tamara screaming for attention. “Let me out! I demand to be set free!” Lotor exchanged looks with Merack, who sighed and shrugged his shoulders.
With a tsk, Lotor strode towards the screams, finding himself before Tamara’s cell. Her eyes lit up with relief, the woman hurrying towards the bars. She curled her fingers around them, practically smiling as she looked at Lotor.
“Your highness! Oh!! I knew you’d realize your mistake and come to get me!” She exclaimed. “This has all been some terrible, awful mistake!”
“Yes…it has.” Agreed Lotor, gesturing for Merack to open the cell. The commander did so, taking care to keep Tamara from rushing out, the woman’s eyes confused. Lotor placed a hand on Merack’s shoulder, shaking his head. “It’s all right Merack. I’d like to speak with Tamara alone.”
“If you’re sure sire.” Merack frowned, displeased at the thought. Lotor was amused, wondering what the commander thought this woman capable of doing to a full grown Drule. She was after all, only human!
Merack stepped out of the way, and Tamara flung herself forward at Lotor, her arms wrapping around him as she embraced him. She held back a sniffle, looking near tears and Lotor murmured soothingly into her ear. His hands reached for her hair, petting her black curls, even as he backed her up into the cell. She barely seemed to notice, not letting go of him as Merack closed the door behind them.
Lotor maneuvered them towards the bed, sitting down on the edge, allowing Tamara to place herself on his lap. She seemed to shake with the effort not to cry, Lotor continuing to pet her in false comfort. “There there….it’s all right…”
“It’s been awful!” Tamara sniffled, her face buried against his chest. “I’ve been suffering every since you got married….no before that!”
“Before?” Lotor asked, Tamara hurrying to continue.
“You didn’t come to see me even one time since that….that PRINCESS of yours came to Doom.” The word princess was hissed out like a curse, Tamara trembling with rage. “Oh I don’t blame you my darling. I know it’s not your fault. She made you stay away. I’m sure she couldn’t handle the competition for your heart.”
“My heart?” He tried to keep the amusement out of his tone, looking down at Tamara. Green eyes glanced at him, wet but brave, confidant of what she was saying.
“Yes, I know you could never love anyone like that.” Tamara said. “I mean what could she possibly offer you that I can’t? And we’ve shared so many things….so many good times…”
“Yes, we have.” Agreed Lotor.
“I still wear the necklace you gave me.” She confided, pulling down her collar to reveal the silver chain with a tiny emerald that matched her eyes. “I’ve never forgotten the words you said to me when you gave it to me.” She was smiling, eyes shining as she recalled the memory of that time. To Lotor it was all a blank, just one more time he had rewarded a harem girl for pleasing him most spectacularly.
“I’m pleased.” He said, trying to muster up some enthusiasm for her. “Tamara….about the poison…are you sure you didn’t have anything to do with it?”
She was silent, hesitating, but he saw guilt in her eyes. “Now Prince Lotor, you know I’ve always been a jealous woman. Remember that blond harem girl who I cut off all her hair?” A nervous giggle from her. “And that was only before I tried to stab her with the scissors!”
He frowned, Lotor vaguely recalling such incidents happening in his harem. Sometimes a slave would get too attached to him, and fights would break out among the women. He had never really paid any mind to such behavior, amused at best at their actions. Now it seemed such jealousy was coming back to haunt him, Lotor wondering if any other former harem girls were plotting his or Allura’s demise.
“Is that a yes or a no?” Lotor said out loud, and she looked away.
“You must understand your highness.” Tamara began, touching her fingers together in a nervous gesture. “I was hurt…confused at being tossed aside. Of course I never blamed you.” She added this hastily. “I knew you would never turn me away. I realized she made you give away your harem, forced you to do this terrible thing.” A small smile then, Tamara continuing. “Of course you found a way to defy her…to keep me close by you.”
“Yes.” One word, a lie that encouraged her to continue.
“It pained me to see you with her.” She confided. “I never felt such hurt before. I knew I had to do something to fix it….to free you…”
“So you sought to eliminate your rival?” Lotor asked, seeing her hesitate.
“I…maybe.” She was being smart, refusing to outright admit what she had done. Never mind the fact that she had just revealed a motive for such an action.
“Tamara, did you or did you not try to poison Allura?” Lotor demanded, and she shook her head. “You know I had ingested some of the poison as well?” A gasp them, the woman truly shocked by the news. “I was gravely ill, I nearly died.”
“But it wouldn’t have killed you!” She blurted out, as though she couldn’t stop herself. “I made sure of that!” Another gasp, Tamara slapping her hands over her mouth, eyes look guilty.
“Really now?!” Lotor said, hands tightening cruelly in her hair. “You made sure of it?! And how would you have done that Tamara?! Unless you yourself was responsible for the poison!”
“You what?!” Lotor demanded, yanking her off his lap. “What lie will you try to tell me to justify what you did?! You tried to kill my wife! You almost killed me! These are serious crimes! Do you think I can just sit back and forgive you?”
“Please Prince Lotor!” She begged, on her knees and grabbing at his leg. Her eyes were pleading, Lotor ignoring her as he stood. “I did it out of love for you. She doesn’t care for you, she doesn’t even like you. Anyone can see that!” It was the wrong thing to say, her words only serving to agitate Lotor further. “No one can love you the way I do!”
“You may think you love me, but know this. I’ve never cared for you beyond what pleasure I could take from your body.” He was purposefully being cruel, tone ice cold. She was hanging onto his leg, nails digging into his pants, being dragged as he walked over to the bars. “Merack, did you hear?”
The commander appeared, having waited just out of sight. “Yes, Prince Lotor. I bore witness to her words.”
“Lotor!” She was giving into her tears, half hysterical as she babbled. “I only want to free you from her! She was the one who was supposed to eat the poison not you! NOT YOU!!”
Lotor didn’t even bother to reply to her, waiting impatiently for Merack to open the cell. Lotor stepped out, his free leg shoving at the woman’s body, trying to kick her off him. She was tenacious, hanging on screaming, demanding he understand and forgive her.
“It’s over Tamara. You have lost.” Lotor said, and with Merack’s help, managed to pry her hands off his leg. She was thrown back into the cell, the woman hitting the floor hard. She stayed down for a moment, hair covering her face as she sobbed. And then she was standing, bounding towards the bars, grabbing onto them so tight the color bled out of her knuckles.
“Lotor please!” She tried to rattle the bars, eyes desperate. Lotor turned his back on her, hearing her cry out. “I did it for us! All for us!”
“Don’t you get it? There is no us?!” Lotor hissed at Tamara. “Come Merack. Leave her to the guards. They’ll get out a full confession out of her.” Lotor walked away, even as Tamara strained to reach him, her arm slipping between the bars of her cell. She just missed snagging his hair, Lotor no longer concerned with the woman.
“What do you intend to do with her?” Merack asked.
“For now we’ll leave her in the dungeon.” Lotor said, thinking of ways to appease Allura. “I’m more concerned with rounding up the rest of my former harem slaves. At least the ones that work in the castle. They too may harbor resentment at their way of life being changed.”
“I’ll get on it right away sire.” Merack said.
Lotor sighed. “Women are such….odd creatures, are they not Commander?”
“It’s nothing.” Lotor said in reply to his confusion, already heading up the stairs, quick to leave behind the dungeon and Tamara’s screams.