Freedom 42

His pile of paperwork had grown in size, documents stacked up on top of one another, wobbling precariously close to toppling over. The slightest breeze would be enough to send those papers flying, and yet Lotor made no move towards setting them right. Instead he ignored them, turning away to stare moodily out the window, looking at the castle gardens which crawled with Drule soldiers.

There was more men than usual stationed outside the castle this day, the soldiers were on a heightened sense of alert, guarding the castle and it’s people from any and all threats. They practically vibrated with eagerness, Lotor sensing their mood was one focused on fighting and killing. It seemed to fit the trains of thoughts that was going through most soldier’s minds, the men pleased that their prince was back to doing things their way, the Doom way. They had spent weeks held back, and now they spoiled for a fight, wanting to avenge their fallen comrades.

The bodies of the fallen Drules were already being loaded onto a Doom ship, their earthly remains to be preserved for the long flight back to their home planet. There they would be handed back to their family, allowing them to grieve and make burial plans for the fallen. Soldiers and high ranking nobles would be honored for their loss, Lotor seeing to paying for their burials personally.

Drules weren’t the only causalities from the night before, Lotor knowing that one of the documents was a paper that held a long list of castle personnel. Many were injured, a few even listed as dead, Lotor having caught a whispered word that the humans were planning to bury their murdered friends in the castle’s small cemetery. The dead was being honored, their bodies seen to, even the dead rebel terrorists were being taken care of.

Lotor could see the smoke, thick, choking curls of it, clouding the sky around the castle. His men were taking care to burn the bodies, tending to a fire that burned hotter than most, intent on leaving no remains behind. No ceremony was held to honor these particular dead, their bodies denied the right to be buried in the soil of the ground, no priests to pray for them, and offer a word that could somehow absolve them from their sins. If it was possible to ensure a person to be damned, the Drules were taking steps towards it, quick to deny their enemies whatever rights and rituals they needed to go on to a peaceful afterlife.

Much of the night had been devoted to the removal of the dead, the bodies having piled up, spread throughout the rooms leading to the ball room. Lotor himself had spent many an hour overseeing his men’s actions, working tirelessly to restore some semblance of normality to the castle. It earned him the approval of those around him, not just of his men, but of the Arusian servants, the people pleased by the efforts taken to clean up the castle, and the care shown to their dead.

The servants themselves had been quick to set about cleaning the castle, working to mop up the spills of blood, scrubbing soap and bleach into the floors where the red substance had already set and stained the floors. The debris stirred up by the explosions were also taken care of, people picking up the pieces and taking them away, to where Lotor did not know. It did not really matter in the long run, those pieces were useless, broken clumps of melted metal, or pieces of furniture, wasted resources that would be recycled or thrown away.

It was more than just picking up after the explosions, the servants set to cleaning the castle from top to bottom, making the floors shine from their efforts. Only the ball room was untouched, being converted into a make shift hospital and hotel for the many party guests who had been too injured or simply too drained from the night’s events to consider traveling home this past night. Doctor Gorma and his staff had been on hand all through the night, tending to their patients, caring but not overly fussing over the nobles.

Lotor himself had been on hand to check in on his guests, paying several visits to the ball room. It wasn’t as though he could sleep, Lotor finding he was running on an adrenaline high, the excitement over what had happened leaving him energized. He’d keep on working right until the point of collapse, and then, and only then would Lotor worry about where to find a bed for himself.

He wasn’t looking forward to sleeping alone, finding the separation from Allura painful. The work he busied himself with helped to keep him distracted, kept Lotor from thinking about her and the way she had looked at him the night before. Lotor had no way of knowing if she had calmed down since then, Allura having yet to emerge from their chambers. He had guards on her door, set to alert him the moment she stepped outside the room, Lotor wanting to keep abreast of her whereabouts at all times.

He hoped she’d be cheered to see the castle looking much like it’s old self, wondering if she would have the nerve to approach the damaged rooms. There had been several explosions in all during last night, bombs set up to blow apart a hole in the side of the castle, the terrorists choosing to skip over the front entrance of the castle. They had blasted apart several doors on the way to the ball room, leaving extensive damage to the structure of the castle. A call had been sent out to the nearest villages, men would come, ready to assess and repair the damages.

The damage to the castle would be easy to fix, Lotor knew the true challenge would be keeping his relationship with Allura from falling apart completely. Part of him was avoiding her, playing the part of a coward for he knew not what to say to her to make this all right. And he tried, tried as hard as he could to think on the right words, but they were simply slow in coming, Lotor fearing they would prove nonexistent.

He was still worrying over how to handle this latest obstacle in his relationship with Allura, when his intercom beeped. The sound intruded on his thoughts, Lotor doing a slow blinking of his eyes as he turned away from the window. His hand raised, finger extended to press down on the button, hearing the radio crackle to life. “Yes, what is it?” Lotor asked, wondering what problem would be laid onto his lap now.

“Prince Lotor sire, there is an incoming transmission from the King!”

“The King?” Lotor held back a displeased sigh, giving a nod of his head even though the intercom was voiced based only. “All right, patch it through to my private line.”

“Yes sir!”

Lotor releases his hold on the intercom’s button, the radio falling silent. It wasn’t a quiet that extended to the room, the view screen being lowered from the ceiling with a soft hum of a motor turning. Lotor sat down behind his desk, watching as the screen finished it’s descent, it’s surface blank for the moment, white holding nothing, not even static.

It changed in an instant, Zarkon’s call being sent from Castle Control to Lotor’s office. The King’s face loomed large on the screen, the camera up close and personal enough that Lotor could make out every wrinkle on his face, every ridge on his nose. Zarkon himself was smiling, a tight lip one that hid his teeth from sight. It meant the king was pleased, but not overly so, Zarkon surely finding something to complain about.

“Greetings father.” Lotor gave a slight bow of his head, his hands folded together on his desk. “You’re looking well this day.”

“I say a might bit better than you are.” Zarkon replied. He stared at Lotor, his eyes looking critical. “You look tired son. Haggard even. Busy night?”

“Quite.” Lotor wondered what his father knew of the night’s goings on, already suspecting the timing of this call. “I’m sure you have already been alerted to the past night’s excitement.”

“Yes, there’s been some mumbling from Haggar about a tense situation on Arus.” Zarkon said. “I was hoping you could shed some light on just what exactly happened over there.”

“The situation with the rebels came to a head last night.” Lotor explained. “Using the weapons they had acquired from one of our hijacked supply wagons, they forced their way into the castle. It wasn’t long before they took the entire party hostage.”

Zarkon barely reacted to the news, his smile staying in place as he listened to Lotor speak. “The entire party you say? My, how ambitious of them.”

“Indeed.” Lotor agreed. “Fortunately for my wife and I, we managed to barricade ourselves in a room. We were able to hold off the rebel terrorists until Commander Merack could arrive with more of my men to the rescue.”

“So this means the terrorists have been apprehended, yes?” Zarkon asked, and Lotor nodded.

“Caught and dispatched.” He clarified. “If you’re calling for a show, you’re already too late. They’ve all been killed.” Now Lotor smiled, a dangerous flashing of his teeth. “Their heads are going to be on display at their home towns. I dare say the Arusians won’t be making the mistake of rebelling any further.”

Zarkon laughed, deeply amused. “I dare say you’re right! Good show Lotor. It took you a while, but you finally dealt a harsh blow to the resistance. One they won’t be able to recover from.”

“I was lax in my duties.” Lotor admitted, chagrined. “I won’t be any further.”

“And that means what exactly?” Zarkon asked. “Will you still be trying to honor that ridiculous treaty you forged with that bride of yours?”

“Sorry to disappoint, but yes.” Lotor told him. “I see no reason why things cannot continue the way they have been, so long as no more rebel factions pop up on Arus.”

“Hmph.” Zarkon snorted, a displeased look crossing his face. “There wouldn’t have been any rebels if you had dealt Arus a hard hand from the beginning. Just look at my example. I ruled this planet for over fifteen years without any problems. The people were too scared to fight back, they could merely cower and hide from my men. It was a perfect set up, and we were well on our way to molding Arus into something better.”

“For all your boasting father…” Lotor began, choosing his words carefully. “Arus was nothing more than a destroyed planet. You had yet to begin the work to make it into a viable resource for the Doom Empire. I have had no such problems. The planet is thriving under my care, and we are well on our way towards having Drules and humans peacefully coexist.”

“Peace is overrated.” Grumbled Zarkon, leaning back in his seat. “If anything it makes a man soft, compliant.” A considering look, Zarkon narrowing his eyes. “Don’t let that happen to you Lotor.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it.” Lotor said, and Zarkon shook his head.

“Maybe not. But you had me worried there for a second.” A clawed finger was raised, Zarkon wagging it in warning at the screen. “Do not think I wasn’t being kept abreast of your actions. You let those rebel scum run wild for too long. You should have resorted to the usual tactics to break them, to turn the populace against them. Instead you held back…why I do not know exactly. Some twisted desire to please that bride of yours, or a deluded sense of honor towards the treaty. Whatever the case, it cost the lives of many Drules, and not all of them low ranking soldiers.”

“It’s unfortunate, but I cannot change the past.” Lotor said, and Zarkon nodded.

“Aye. But you can change the present. And at least you’ve started to make amends. The remaining Drules will be pleased by the killings, relieved even to know they are still being led by a competent hand, a prince willing to be ruthless when needed.”

Lotor held back a sigh, knowing he had put his men in doubt about that very thing. “I will strive towards the usual excellence you and our people expect of me.” Lotor was quick to assure his father. “No more will I allow strife and discord to run rampant on Arus. I will move swiftly towards resolving such problems should they arise.”

“Yes, keep that attitude in place, and word will spread of your deeds. The Arusians will soon be too scared to think of causing us any more trouble.” Zarkon said, his tone dripping with approval.

“Yes, father, that is my intent.” A humorless smile from Lotor, one his father mirrored.

“Now go. Get some rest.” He urged, surprising Lotor with his concern. “You look like you could use it.”

“I still have much to do…” Lotor began to protest, Zarkon raising his hand for silence.

“You can leave it in the capable hands of that commander of yours.” Zarkon told him. “I think in this one case, it will be all right if you delegate some of the work to others.”

“Very well.” Lotor said reluctantly.

“Don’t look so down son. You’ve accomplished a great many things for our two planets this night.” Pointed out Zarkon. “You should be out celebrating! Come, where is your usual enthusiasm, the boasts, the heaps of self praise as you talk of your accomplishments?!” A frown then, Zarkon peering more closely at Lotor. “You’re not coming down with something, are you?”

“I am fine father.” Lotor said, then added. “You honor me with your concern.”

“Hmph. Well…” Zarkon’s voice took on a gruff tone, the king seeming embarrassed by Lotor’s words. “Just looking out for my only heir.” That almost made Lotor smile, the prince noting how quick Zarkon was to deny having any real feelings for his son. “Speaking of which, how goes things with the princess? Is she pregnant yet?”

“No father. She’s not.”

Zarkon frowned. “How…disappointing.”

“There’s really no rush.” Lotor told him, his mind wandering, wondering if Allura would ever let him touch her again in that way. “It’ll happen when the time is right.”

“I suppose.” A smirk then, Zarkon flashing his fangs. “How is she doing? No doubt she reacted in a predictable fashion towards the killings?”

“She was horrified.” Lotor confirmed, much to Zarkon’s glee. “Allura doesn’t understand the necessity of it all.”

“No doubt she doesn’t.” Zarkon agreed. “For all the trouble she caused me, that girl doesn’t understand much about the way of the universe. It’s a good thing you’re here to educate her, and take the burdens of ruling away from her. Rulers that are soft hearted soon find themselves either replaced or killed…remember that Lotor.”

“I’ll heed that warning.” Lotor promised. “Now if you’ll excuse me father…”

“Yes, go.” Zarkon waved at the screen, a dismissive air about him. “I’ll contact you again soon.”

“Good bye father.” Lotor said, the screen already turning to static. He let out the sigh he had been holding, the air coming out in a deep huff. Zarkon’s call had done little to take the edge of Lotor’s mood, the prince frowning to himself as he reflected on the conversation. He found the king’s words to be both praise and a threat, Zarkon obvious in his reminders to Lotor about the things that could befall a soft hearted leader. Lotor knew he had tried his father’s patience with the way he had handled the rebellion here on Arus, and frankly he was surprised that Zarkon hadn’t interfered in a more direct manner.

They had been lucky, Lotor realized, knowing the capture of Arus and Voltron had put Zarkon in a good mood, the likes of which had not been seen in over a year. It left the king content to sit back and watch Lotor blunder through the trials and tribulations Arus put him through. Indeed Arus might be a test, one meant to gauge Lotor’s readiness towards ruling the Doom Empire. He couldn’t afford to make any more mistakes, Lotor had to show Zarkon that he a strong and capable ruler whatever the cost to the people around him.

“Damn.” Lotor swore, and rose from his seat, the frown still in place on his face. Everything was becoming more complicated, Lotor finding that it was practically impossible to appease both his father and Allura, the two royals representing Doom and Arus, and the people that lived on those planets. “How he must be laughing at me.” Lotor grumbled, moving around the desk, listening to the view screen as it ascended towards the ceiling.

Lotor was quickly coming to the conclusion that Arus was as much a curse as a gift from his father, the prince wondering if things would have been better if they had been sent to some other planet. At least then Allura wouldn’t have any personal ties to the people and the land, but inwardly Lotor knew that even if it had been strangers entrusted into their care, Allura would have demanded fairness in their treatment.

Trying to do good was a lot harder than Lotor had ever realized, the prince grumbling under his breath as he reached for the knob of the door. He gave a vicious yank, the door swinging open fast and sudden, startling the guard on the other side of the room. He spared a glance at the man, the soldier wisely keeping quiet at the look on Lotor’s face.

Lotor’s eyes swept over the hallway, noting the distinct lack of people in this corridor. The room he had claimed for his office was well away from the damage rooms, leaving there little for soldiers to guard, and servants to clean. Except for the man on his door, and another soldier walking up and down the length of the hall, this part of the castle was all but empty.

Closing the door behind him, Lotor began walking down the hall, his hand reaching for his com unit. He clicked it on with a tap of his finger, for a moment just being quiet as he listened to the communications of his men. From the sound of things, the castle was calm, it’s people moving with a purpose, united in intent for once as they worked together to repair and safeguard the castle from any further threats.

Commander Merack’s name was mentioned several times, the man seeming to have the situation well under control. If Lotor was so inclined, he could very well sneak off for a few hours sleep and the castle would not suffer for his absence. Still debating on what to do, Lotor turned a corner, catching sight of Queen Orla standing by a window, peering out it’s glass. She seemed lost in thought, her face serious as she stared at something in the distance.

Switching off his com unit, Lotor slowed his hurried pace, letting his footsteps fall silent on the floor as he approached her. She was still dressed in her black gown from the ball, the woman having had little time to change her clothes. But her hair had been brushed, and her face scrubbed clean of the dirt and grime kicked up during the laser fight. She was more than presentable, her face not quite relaxed as she pressed against the glass.

“A gold piece for your thoughts your highness.” Lotor said, surprised when she didn’t jump at the sound of his voice.

“Prince Lotor…” Orla turned to look at him, a half smile on her lips. “How are you?” She inquired, blue eyes looking him over. “Have you been to bed yet?”

“No not yet.” Lotor told her, studying her face in return. He saw the darkened circles under her eyes, the Queen not quite covering how tired she appeared. “I suspect you haven’t had much sleep either.”

“No. There has been much to do.” Orla confirmed. “I’ve been helping Doctor Gorma and his staff in the ball room. Those of us that are able, have been handing out blankets and food rations, and even going so far as to rewrap wounds in fresh gauze.”

“Ah. I’m surprised he hasn’t ordered you to bed yet!” Lotor said, knowing how bossy the good doctor could be.

“Oh he’s tried.” Admitted Orla, that odd smile of hers growing a tad bigger. “He all but had me escorted from the ball room, with the strictest of orders to get some sleep. But…” She turned back to look out the window, a sigh escaping her. “I find I can’t shut off my mind to sleep.”

“There seems to be a lot of that going on.” Lotor said, and now he glanced out the window too, seeing nothing but Doom ships stationed on the front lawn of the castle. It was hardly an interesting sight, and yet it held Orla’s attention, the prince wondering what the Queen was thinking.

“You haven’t slept yet?” She asked sharply, her tone of voice almost making Lotor reluctant to answer her question.

“No…Like you I have been to busy to sleep.”

“Ah of course. But…you have been to see my niece haven’t you?” She glanced at him, a question in her eyes. His hesitation had her reacting, Orla’s eyes widening. “Oh Lotor….why not?”

“She asked me to leave her alone for now.” Lotor explained, feeling defensive. “I thought I’d honor her request.”

“Now is not the time for her to be alone!” Orla exclaimed. “It’s admirable of you to want to do as she asks, but I know Allura. And deep down she doesn’t want to be alone. She’ll only torture herself with the memories of what she saw last night.” Orla touched his arm, offering an entreaty. “Lotor please…go to her. Comfort her, help her work through the horrors of last night, even fight with her if need be. Just keep her from withdrawing into herself…!”

“I fear fighting is all we may do…” Lotor sighed, Orla staring at him in silent imploration. “But if you think it’s best, I will go to her.”

“I do.” Orla agreed, nodding emphatically. “In times of strife, a husband and a wife need each other. It can only serve to strengthen your bond…”

“Or destroy it…” Lotor pointed out.

“True.” The Queen agreed. “But my niece loves you. She won’t want to give up on you, not really. So don’t give up on her!”

“I wish I was as sure as you are about her love for me.” Lotor said. “And do not worry your highness. I didn’t come this far to start giving up on Allura now.”

“Good.” Orla’s smile was a relieved one, the Queen turning back towards the window.

“Will you stay awhile at the castle?” Lotor asked. “Allura would appreciate it, and so would I.”

“I think I could arrange a few days away from my kingdom.” Orla said, giving a nod of her head. “Your man Engit has proven himself more than capable of handling things. I’ve little fear of what will happen in my absence as long as he remains in charge.”

“Good. As much as you believe Allura needs me, I also think she needs a strong female presence in her life. And with Nanny gone…well…” Lotor shrugged. “There’s not many choices left. I don’t want her to end up feeling isolated from people who could support her.”

“Nanny’s dismissal is an unfortunate thing.” Orla said. “People are already talking about it, wondering just what she did to earn such a fate.”

“Simply put, I cannot trust her.” Lotor’s answer had Orla looking at him, an unreadable expression in her eyes.

“And you feel you can trust me?”

“I trust you a damn mite more than I could ever trust that nanny’s of Allura!” Lotor exclaimed. “At least you don’t seek to undermine my influence with your niece. Nanny never had a good word to say about me, and some of her actions were foolish and downright dangerous towards my health.”

“Do not let that stiff and serious appearance of hers fool you.” Orla advised. “Nanny is a passionate woman, and she feels strongly about Allura. Anything she did was in order to protect my niece.”

“But Allura doesn’t need protecting from me!” A frustrated Lotor cried out.

“No, I suspect she doesn’t.” Agreed Orla. “Which is something Nanny has yet to understand. Perhaps she never will. But maybe the time away will help her to come to grips with the changes brought to Arus and Allura. You have to remember, prince Lotor, it wasn’t that long ago that we were all caught in a war that seemed never ending. People have a hard time letting go of the past, especially one as blood stained as Arus.”

“You don’t seem to have that problem.” Lotor pointed out, seeing Orla’s lips twitch.

“I suppose I am able to view things from a more practical viewpoint.” She said. “I have lived through King Zarkons’ reign of terror, I have survived through many atrocities committed to the people of Arus. I know how much worse things could have been when you married my niece. And yet instead, you work with our people, you work to make changes, to usher in a peaceful reign.”

“You see me as the lesser evil.” Lotor noted, and she gave in to the smile.

“I’m not so quick to define ruthless and evil in the same breath. I suspect that’s something Allura is struggling with now.” She fell silent as his com unit went off, Lotor lifting it to his lips.

“Yes, what is it?”

“Prince Lotor, you wanted us to alert you of the princess’ whereabouts at all time. Well….she’s left the bedroom and is headed for the castle cemetery.”

“Understood.” Lotor said, already clicking the communicator off. “If you’ll excuse me, your highness….I need to go have a talk with my wife.”

“Of course.” Orla nodded, her attention already back to the ships out on the lawn. Lotor moved past her, his steps slow and unhurried, a direct contrast to his racing thoughts. He knew he had to talk to Allura, Lotor praying that by the time he caught up to her, he’d know just what to say!

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