She stood in the center of the bedroom, Allura at the heart of a whirlwind of activity. Her maids were rushing about, pulling out dresses and underskirts, holding up selections of ribbons and jewelry before Allura’s eyes. The bedroom was a mess, dresses tossed carelessly a top the mattress, scrapes of material littering the floor, a multitude of shoes brought out and discarded as an inappropriate match for the dress Allura was currently debating on wearing.
She paid only half attention to the dress her nanny was holding up before her, Allura’s eyes switching back and forth from clothing to the documents in her hand. Allura was trying her best to read over the writing on the paper, the document detailing the week’s past events that had been occurring all over the planet. Even as she stood clad in a lacy slip, her attention wandered, Allura reading in approval that the villagers were doing much better now that the castle doctor’s had set up free clinics in the towns closest to the castle.
Doctor Gorma’s people were doing their best, working to treat any and all conditions, tending to people of all age and race. Most of her people were too poor to afford health care, another thing they could thank Doom for, the people worked and taxed to their limits. It was only right that Arus give something back to them, taking care of their illnesses and providing the medicine they needed to go on living.
Doctor Gorma himself was keeping busy at the castle, using the long hours of free time to work on developing more medicines to send to the towns. He and his remaining staff were experimenting with cures, working to develop stronger medicines that might prove more cost effective in mass producing.
It was more than just the state of health care, Allura read about, the princess barely paying attention as a maid wrapped a heavy petticoat around her waist, she was also closely following the reports about the resistance. Their attacks had been more aggressive earlier in the week, causing riots, and attacking supply routes. After they got away with a wagon full of weapons, Lotor had declared no more artillery be transported along the known routes. Instead soldiers and their weapons were sent via cruisers to the towns, Drules assigned to protect the peace and keep the people from causing themselves harm.
It didn’t always work, Allura noted, nodding her head at the purple gown Nanny was now holding up. The riots were the worse of the events, many innocent people were hurt or even killed when the soldiers tried to put an end to the chaos. The free clinics were quickly filling up with the injured, both Drule and human needing aid from the doctors.
The Drule settlements were still safe from attack, the rebellion not daring to set foot into Drule territory. The buildings were coming along nicely, albeit slowly due to the Drules unease at doing any manual labor for themselves. Allura hoped that within a week’s time, the first of the houses would be built, and that Lotor would allow her to accompany him to visit one of the settlements.
Lotor himself had been planning to visit several of the kingdoms of Arus, intent on visiting with the Drule officials he had set up as town governors. But due to the rebel activity, that had been placed on hold, as had the parade meant to honor Allura’s marriage to Lotor. Instead he was spending all his time in and around the castle grounds, or on one of the ship’s that came with him from Planet Doom.
Allura herself had ventured out of the castle only a handful of times, mainly to help educate the pilots chosen to fly the lions. Mostly her duties consisted of sitting in Castle Control, giving advice over the airwaves. Under her guidance, they were learning, and soon the lions would be able to defend Arus once more.
“Princess…” Nanny was frowning at her, the agitation the woman gave off hinting that she had been trying to get Allura’s attention for quite some time. “Do put those papers down and let us help you get dressed!”
“Hmmm?” Allura blinked, pulling her eyes away from the sheaf of papers in her hands. “Oh, I’m sorry Nanny. I just wanted to review these latest reports.”
The woman frowned harder, giving a slight shake of her head. “How can you trust anything that comes from Lotor and his men?”
“Nanny?” Confusion was in her voice, Allura looking curiously at her.
“Anything they tell you is bound to be lies and half truths.” Nanny explained. “You can’t believe Lotor would let you know what is really going on outside of the castle!”
“I have no reason to believe my husband has been less than truthful to me.” Allura said, maintaining her calm.
“Until you are allowed to leave the castle and see with your own eyes, you must stay on guard.” Nanny told her. “Who knows what they are doing to our people!”
“I think you are being overly suspicious.” Allura handed the papers to one of the maids, the brown haired girl moving to set the documents down on top of the vanity’s surface. “Lotor isn’t hiding anything from me….he is merely making sure it is safe before I venture out. You haven’t forgotten what the rebellion has declared me?”
“Such nonsense.” Grumbled Nanny, working open the ties on the back of Allura’s gown. “As if anyone could believe you’d ever turn traitor to your people.”
“The truth of the matter is someone does believe it…” She sighed, holding up her arms so that Nanny and one of the maids could pull the gown up over her head. “And until those people are apprehended, my life as well as the lives of innocents, continue to be in danger.” Her voice came out muffled, the satin dress sliding down her body. It’s bodice was form fitting, with a heart shaped neckline that offered tempting glimpse of her breasts. The sleeves went down past her wrists, material stopping just at the base of her fingers.
The skirt itself flared out around her, puffed up by the stiff petticoats underneath her gown. Allura smoothed her hands down the front of her skirt, hearing the crinoline rustle in response to her touch. Her maids fussed around her, tugging the skirts into place, making sure no wrinkles existed on the stiff material.
“He uses the rebellion to keep you scared and by his side, a virtual prisoner in your own home!” Nanny grumbled, fingers picking at nonexistent lint on the gown’s bodice. A maid was behind Allura, working to do up the criss cross pattern of the laces to the back of her bodice. Allura sighed, holding back a wince as the maid cinched the waist tighter, causing her breath to catch as her body was squeezed on all sides.
“He is doing no such thing.” Protested Allura, stepping forward towards her vanity. She sat down, eyes once again glancing at the top most document. The maids surrounded her, powder puffs in hand as they began dabbing concealer on her shoulders and exposed cleavage, working to cover the kiss marks Lotor had left on her body. Perfume was soon added, a sweet lilac scent being sprayed into her hair. “He’s only concerned about me….the same way you and Coran would be.” She watched Nanny pace agitatedly behind her, the woman’s reflection frowning as she moved.
“If only you had listened to us even half as much as you listen to the prince!” complained Nanny, Allura having to hide a smile at her words. The maid Sabrina began fussing over Allura’s hair, eyes full of concentration as she began piling the curled locks on top of Allura’s head. Stray curls trailed down the sides of her face, escaping the french twist Sabrina made of her hair.
It left her neck naked, Allura reaching for her jewelry box, searching for the necklace Lotor had given her. She found it, the sapphire memento of his mother complimenting her purple gown nicely. It started out a faded lavender that’s color grew in intensity, until the bottom of the skirts was a purple so dark it could be mistaken for blue. It set the sapphire of the necklace sparkling nicely, Allura smiling at her reflection.
Her smile didn’t last, watching Nanny pace, the woman grumbling under her breath. “He keeps you isolated Allura. Keeps you away from your people, away from word on what is really going on.” Allura sighed, eyes downcast, knowing that at least part of what Nanny was saying was true. Lotor was keeping the common man away from her, but she knew he was doing it simply out of concern for her well being.
“It’s merely a safety precaution.” Nanny scoffed at Allura’s words, the woman continuing her agitated movement. “And we have Coran here to keep us updated on what is going on outside the castle. Surely you don’t doubt his findings?”
“No but…” Nanny hesitated, hands fidgeting with her apron. “He could be deceived. People paid off to tell him lies, paint a pretty picture of the Drules.”
“You are being overly suspicious and for no good reason.” Allura told her, Nanny shaking her head no.
“No good reason? The man captured you, forced you to marry him! We now have Drules planet side, living among our people.” Nanny said, counting off her fingers her reasons. “All you worked for is being stripped away, corrupted….perverted!”
“Perverted?” Allura turned to glance over her shoulder at Nanny, eyebrow lifted in surprise.
“Drules living alongside humans…” Nanny sniffed, expression haughty. “As if we are to believe that the two can ever peacefully coexist!”
“I didn’t realize you were a speciest Nanny.” Allura frowned at the opinionated woman.
“It’s not just me.” Nanny was quick to protest. “Many feel the same way. Right girls?” The two maids exchanged awkward looks, clearly not wanting to be drawn into the discussion.
“Sabrina? Allisa?” Allura was looking back and forth between the two maids, seeing Sabrina fidget, her hands in her apron. “Is it true?”
“Its just…the Drules of the Doom Empire have done so much to our people…” began Sabrina. “So much killing and strife…so many people lost or taken away to be slaves…It’s hard to turn our backs on the past.”
“And when the prince does things….like kill that girl…it stirs up negative feelings.” Added Allisa. “There was some in the castle willing to give the prince the benefit of doubt until that moment.”
“Lotor did not kill Tamara.” Allura said firmly, seeing the doubt on the maids’ faces. “He didn’t! That was one of his subordinates acting on his own….” But she could see they were not convinced. With a shake of her head, she turned back to her mirror, a glum expression on her face. She still found it hard to reconcile herself to what Merack had done, Allura sparing time to mourn for Tamara. Allura didn’t believe the girl had deserved to be killed, especially not in so brutal a fashion.
There was a marker placed in the castle ceremony, plain besides it’s inscription, marking the spot the slave was buried. Allura and Lotor had attended the burial, holding a small, quiet ceremony for the girl. Several of the former harem slaves had attended the ceremony, laying flowers on the marker, and offering a few soft words. Lotor had been sure to keep her distant from the women, his hand hovering over the hilt of his sword as a warning should they attempt to make a move towards Allura. Afterwards, the former harem slaves had been led off the castle grounds, sent to work elsewhere all in order to avoid a similar tragedy from repeating itself.
Merack himself had not been seen since being banished to one of the ships that came from Doom. If Lotor was in communication with the commander, he did not say, leaving Allura to wonder how Merack was doing with this isolation from his prince. She wasn’t ready to forgive him for what he had done, seeing it as outright murder and not a killing done in defense of her or her husband.
She could understand why the killing made people nervous of Lotor. Merack had accomplished exactly what he set out to do, few if any people believing Lotor had not had anything to do with Tamara’s death. She marveled at the devotion Lotor inspired in Merack, the commander willing to go to such lengths to protect Lotor’s reputation. She wondered what else Merack would do it left unchecked, and her imaginings was enough to make her shiver.
“Here…” Nanny was handing a dark purple wrap to Allura, the princess glancing up, startled out of her thoughts. “Take this if you’re cold.”
“Thank you…” Allura said, and wrapped the shawl around her. “Well…I think I’m ready…” She glanced about for her shoes, Sabrina bringing heels that were the same shade of purplish blue as the bottom of her skirts. Allura slipped her feet into the shoes, casting one last glance at her reflection. It showed her nothing but perfection, though it couldn’t hide the frustrated light in her eyes.
“Will I see you at the ball?” She asked, and Nanny nodded.
“Yes. I managed to wrangle serving duty for the big event.” Nanny told her. “I will be close by in case you need me.”
“Good, I’m glad.” Allura glanced at the maids. “After you get this room cleaned up, please take the rest of the night off. You earned it.”
“Yes princess. Thank you.” Sabrina said as she and Allisa curtsied to her.
Allura nodded, and turned to leave, Nanny following close behind her. Through the foyer they moved, and out into the hall. Nanny stayed following her until they got to the first floor, and then the woman said her good-byes, parting to head towards the servant entrance of the ball room. Allura wrapped her shawl tighter around her, walking through the castle, trying to keep from getting lost in her thoughts.
She knew her Aunt, Queen Orla would be at the party, and that made her smile. It had been many months since she last saw the woman, and she was eager for their reunion. She just hoped Aunt Orla wouldn’t be too tough on her for the choices her marriage had forced onto her kingdom!
As she moved through the corridors, Allura noticed security had been stepped up, the number of Drule soldiers in the castle doubling. They were wearing neatly pressed uniforms, fancier than what she was used to seeing them in. Stark black material, with blood red embellishments, and silver buttons on their jacket and sleeve cuffs. Metal swords were hung on the side of their hips, the swords being more than just show. With so many important people in one room, it would be risky to use blasters, they could ricochet off the walls and strike a dignitary by accident.
Allura passed through the room with the portraits of her family, pausing briefly to smile at the one of her parents. It was so different from a few days ago, back when she had first arrived on Arus. Back then she had been miserable and unsure of her marriage, and now she was able to look at her parent’s portrait with a smile on her face. She wondered if their spirits were watching over her, knowing she had found a kind of happiness with Lotor.
She was still studying the painting, when arms wrapped around her. She just barely kept from jumping in place, startled but knowing that only one person would dare to embrace her like this. His familiar aftershave tickled her nose, Allura inhaling his scent deeply. “Lotor…”
“You look stunning.” He said, kissing the side of her face, his arms hugging her tighter. “But then, you always do take my breath away with your looks.”
She laughed, pleased by his compliments. “Flattery so soon? One would think you are after something!”
“Only speaking the truth my love.” Lotor told her, and at last his arms loosened, allowing her to turn in his embrace. She looked him over, seeing he had tied back his white mane with a black silk ribbon. His clothes were expensive, lavish material of satin and silks, colored a midnight blue that contrasted nicely against his azure skin. Black and gold thread embroidered designs into the jacket, and a hint of white silk shirt spilled out around the collar of his coat. His pants bunched at the knees, tucked into shiny black boots that were polished to perfection.
“You look good.” Allura told him, eyes returning to his face.
“Don’t I always?” He teased, grinning at her. She shyly nodded her agreement, Lotor laughing and taking hold of her arm. “Come Allura, the ball is about to start. Our guests wait only on our arrival.”
“I didn’t keep you waiting too long, did I?” She asked, walking with him, one hand holding up her skirts so she would not trip over the hem.
“You are worth the wait.” Lotor answered, leading her down the corridor to the room that had been designated the ball room. She could see soldiers lining the corridor, saluting them as they passed by the Drules. At the very end of the corridor, two Drules stood, waiting to open the doors for the royal couple. A red carpet had been rolled out, leading from the door down the corridor. It muffled their footsteps, and from the closed doors, Allura could hear the sound of music playing.
“Has everyone arrived already?” She asked Lotor, and he nodded.
“Just about.” Lotor said. “It’s a small gathering, but all the kingdoms of Arus will be represented here.”
“I’m glad.” Allura told him. “I look forward to hearing first hand recounts on what is going on in the other kingdoms.”
“Just don’t forget to relax a little.” Lotor laughed as they reached the doors. “It is a party after all.”
“I won’t.” She assured him, watching as the doors slowly opened. The music came to a stop, a trumpet heralding their arrival. The voices of the gathered people dropped down to a murmur, turning towards the door, eyes expectant. Allura was already looking over the mixed faces, trying to spot her Aunt when Coran stood up.
“Presenting her royal highness the Princess Allura, and his royal highness, the Prince Lotor.” They needed no further announcement, the people were already applauding, excited to see them. Allura couldn’t help but notice the human guests were a little less enthusiastic to greet her and her husband. She had to fight back the sigh, keeping a brilliant smile on her face as Lotor ushered her into the room.
People immediately surged forward, surrounding them. They talked a mile a minute, all clamoring for attention, leaving Allura to feel overwhelmed. Lotor took it in stride, nodding and smiling, pushing them through the crowd and into the center of the room. “Friends…” He began, gesturing for silence. “There will be time enough to discuss business during the night. For now I invite you to drink and make merry. There is plenty of good food and wine available to you.”
A gesture from Lotor had the string quartet resume playing their instruments, music filling the room once more. People were milling about uncertainly, all eager to talk to the royal couple. “Shall we lead by example my love?” Lotor asked her, already reaching to place a hand on her waist.
“Yes, let’s.” Agreed Allura, though inwardly she had to admit to being impatient to speak with the people gathered here. Just not all at once!
Lotor took her right hand, and began dancing with her, turning her around so that her gown rustled and flared, sweeping across the floor as they waltzed. It reminded Allura of her wedding day, how Lotor had danced her across the floor and out into the hall. But it was different this time, she felt no agitation, no worry or fear of what was to follow the dancing.
Others soon joined them on the floor, people twirling and dipping, sashaying to the beat of the music. She was surrounded by the colors of the rainbow, seeing the expensive dresses and modest suits of the partygoers. Another twirl from Lotor, and suddenly a man was cutting in, tapping the prince on the shoulder. Lotor’s eyes darkened for a second, a possessive look on his face as he reluctantly handed Allura over to the Drule.
“Governor General Clemenas.” He introduced himself to Allura, bowing low to her. “I am over seeing the town of Harbrooke.”
“Oh, the town that has been hit the hardest by the rebels?” Allura asked, mind recalling details of the reports she had read. Clemenas nodded gravely, taking care not to hold her too close as they danced. She hid a smile, knowing he was being careful not to arouse the jealousy of her husband.
“I’m actually the replacement for the town’s original Governor General.” He explained. “It’s unfortunate, but my predecessor was killed during the riots two weeks ago.”
“Yes. Many people lost their lives that day.” Allura agreed sadly. “Tell me, how has the people of Harbrooke been adapting to having you and your men among them?”
“It’s been a rough time.” Admitted Clemenas, sighing. “The people still hold much hatred for Doom, and they are quick to react when the rebels stir up trouble. It’s all I can do to move around the town safely, even with my guards I am in constant danger.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.” Allura told him.
“I was hoping perhaps to get moved to one of the Drule settlements.” He confessed. “But those are few, and there is not enough positions for high ranking military men. Perhaps..” He hesitated, Allura urging him onwards.
“Yes, go on?”
“You could put a good word in for me with your husband?” Clemenas asked. “I would very much like to leave Harbrooke behind.”
“I see…” She tried not to frown. “But…someone needs to oversee the town. If not you, then who?” Her tone was questioning, Allura hiding her private doubts that if Clemenas was so eager to abandon his post because of a little danger, then he surely wasn’t the right candidate for a governor position.
“Perhaps someone with more experience would flourish in my place.” The Governor General said.
“Perhaps…” Allura said noncommittally. He twirled her around the floor two more times, and then someone else was coming to tap on his shoulder. “Ah…if both of you will excuse me…” Allura said to Clemenas and the stranger. “I am a bit….winded from all this dancing.”
“Of course.” Clemenas said, bowing his head at her. The stranger looked upset, but also nodded his understanding, allowing Allura to escape the dance floor. She wove her way through the crowd of people, searching for her Aunt, offering up excuses when people tried to stop her. At last she found her, the woman dressed in black silk, a startling look for the woman. She was used to seeing her Aunt in soft colors that complimented her blonde beauty, not this severe look of one in mourning.
“Aunt Orla!” Allura said, seeing the Queen break apart from her dance partner.
“Allura.” Queen Orla smiled at her, coming forward to give the princess a hug. “You are looking well. Does…” A brief hesitation, smile wavering for a moment. “Does married life suit you?”
“Oh yes.” Allura nodded her agreement. “Very much so. And you? How are you?”
“I am as well as can be considering the circumstances.” Orla sighed, Allura giving her a look of concern. She took her Aunt’s hand, and led her over to the buffet table, hoping for a moment of privacy.
“What’s wrong?” Allura asked.
“Oh where to start.” Orla said, expression morose.
“How about at the beginning…?” suggested Allura, seeing her Aunt nod.
“It’s just…things are so different now that Arus is part of the Doom Empire.” Orla told her.
“It’s just unsettling to see the people of Doom moving about freely among our people.” Orla frowned, giving a shake of her head. “I’ve had to open up my home to them! My home Allura! A man by the name of Engit is in command of the Drules. I am a Queen in name only, Engit holds the real power in my kingdom now.”
“That’s my fault.” Allura sighed. “I had to agree to a step down in power for all the kingdoms’ rulers. I tried to negotiate a fair deal but some concessions had to be made.”
“You did your best child.” Orla said, patting her hand. “We are fortunate you were able to keep our people from being made slaves. I dare say if the Prince of Doom wasn’t so infatuated with you, even that wouldn’t have been possible.”
“Yes…” Agreed Allura. “So the people are free?” She felt relieved to see Orla’s nod, the gesture putting an end to the doubts Nanny had tried to stir up.
“As free as one can be under Doom’s rule.” Orla told her.
“How are they treating the people of your kingdom?” Allura asked, eager for more details.
“Reasonably well. The Drules are amused by the people’s fear, and quick to take advantage of that.”
“Advantage how?” Allura wanted to know, frowning.
“Oh, for the most part just scaring them into doing favors. I’ve been talking to Engit and he has made good on his promise to force his men to behave.” Orla admitted, grudging respect in her tone. “But every once in a while, a soldier steps out of line, particularly where women are concerned.”
“Has anyone been…hurt?” Allura asked, fighting back a shudder.
“No, not yet. The others are quick to reprimand their coworkers.” Orla told her. “Has there been any problems like that here in the castle?”
“None that I have heard of save one…” Allura said, her thoughts drifting to Merack and Tamara. “Have you had any problems with the rebels?”
“Thankfully no.” Orla answered. “My kingdom hasn’t been targeted by the resistance. Frankly I hope they never come around.” She touched Allura’s shoulder, offering a sad smile to the girl. “I have heard what they have said about you. Know that in most people’s heart, they know it not to be true.”
“Thanks…” Allura said, unable to smile back at her Aunt. She looked away, trying to spot Lotor on the floor when she saw Nanny approaching, a heavy tray of food in her hands. The woman expertly maneuvered her way through the crowd, carrying her burden with a practiced ease that showed no sign of strain to it. She headed straight for the buffet table, nodding her hellos at Allura and Orla.
Nanny was just setting down the tray when it happened, what felt like an earthquake shaking the room, people letting out nervous laughter as they glanced around. Allura frowned, one hand on the table for support, eyes casting about for Lotor.
“Funny…” She said out loud. “The castle is not on any known fault lines…”
“It was just a small rumble.” Orla said. “I’m sure it was nothing.”
“Perhaps…” Allura said, a frown on her face. She didn’t know why, but the trembles unsettled her, leaving Allura to feel there was something unnatural about them. She’d be disappointed to know how right she was….