Of course one woman in particular shone like a diamond, her brilliance blazing. By all right Lotor should be dancing with her, and yet instead of the princess of Pollux, he found himself before the Arusian girl. Fighting not to grit his teeth, as he narrowed his eyes at her in a downright hostile glare. It was no wonder she looked so frightened, Allura of Arus casting a quick look to the now empty space besides her. Lotor might as well have shown a spotlight on her, so complete was her isolation.
Allura didn’t move to take his hand. Instead she stared at it as though it was a venomous viper, one poised to sink it’s fangs into her. He felt a shift of impatience go through him, Lotor annoyed that this unappealing girl didn’t recognize the honor he was giving her. He made some betraying sound of his displeasure, a noise only she could hear, her gaze lifting up to his. Those ugly spectacles hid the color of her eyes, but not the horrified look inside them.
Lotor couldn’t say he understood Allura’s reaction. Especially when he thought she should be jumping for joy for any kernel of attention he threw her way. Instead she just stood there, looking very much like she wanted to be anywhere but on Doom. His annoyance intensified, Lotor impatient as he snagged hold of her hand. Ignoring her protests, and the chastising looks of the other bridal candidates.
She was still protesting as he led her into a dance, the girl holding her self stiff against him. But he didn’t think for one minute her reactions were born out of a lack of dancing ability. For all her uneasiness, there was a hidden grace to her movements. A grace that kept her from stumbling as he dragged her into the dance. It allowed her to keep from trodding on his feet, Allura reluctantly holding onto him as they moved to the music.
They weren’t speaking, Lotor spending those seconds staring at her. Studying her. Damn but he really did like her mouth, the sweet, almost pouty shape of her lips. A fetching pink colored her cheeks, her skin smooth and without blemish. The brown hair didn’t suit her complexion, being far too plain a shade. Lotor wasn’t against brunettes, but he had seen ones with far more vibrant and vivid shades than the muddy brown that colored this princess’ hair.
It was scraggly looking too, a coarse texture that didn’t look at all pleasing to the touch. The curls were big, loose ringlets that could be brush away easily. There wasn’t much length to her hair, the curls barely reaching down to her shoulders. Her shoulders like the rest of her was covered so that only her hands were revealed. Her body was nondescript, made that way under the loose and ill fitting cut of her baggy clothes. Lotor didn’t know much about women’s fashion, but even he could see that the dress was ugly and several years out of date.
The lack of effort on her part puzzled him. Why would Allura of Arus even come here? Why would she even think she stood a chance of competing with the beauties present? According to Haggar, her planet wasn’t even more than a farming world. Fertile though it may be, farming lands had never proven much when it came to fortunes. With no money and no beauty to entice him, what hope could Allura of Arus have of gaining anything more than his pity?
And yet she already had a small victory. She was here now, in his arms. Swaying to the beat of the music while he scrutinized everything about her. All because he had seen her smile. Ridiculous that, a smile shouldn’t affect him so. But Lotor had noticed something about Allura in that unguarded moment. Something that had unsettled him to the point he had purposefully chosen her for the next dance. All to prove to himself she wasn’t anything special, and with that confirmation would be easy to put out of his mind.
“Stop staring.” Allura’s voice broke into his thoughts, Lotor reacting with more surprise than he would have liked. He hadn’t expected her to speak unless goaded, Lotor thinking she’d be as meek as she was uninteresting. And yet, not only was she bold enough to talk to him, Allura had actually dared to give him a command.
“Is that what I’m doing?” Lotor asked out loud, voice amused. Allura’s own voice was soft, and far more sultry a whisper than he had expected. It was a pleasing trait, for a girl who seemed intent on being anything but.
She frowned at him. “You’re making fun of me.”
“Hardly.” He said in response to her accusation. “I’m just trying to figure you out.”
That only made Allura frown harder. “What is there to figure out?”
“Why you are here.” Lotor replied.
“Oh your highness….surely you don’t envision a greater purpose in mind for me than the simple husband hunting that I, along with the rest of the ladies present here, have come to do?”
“I can’t deny that is what many of the other women in this room have come here to do. But you..? There is something else…” Was it his imagination, or did Allura turn nervous at that.
“What else could there be?” She asked. Her look was evasive, eyes shifting behind the tinted glass of her spectacles. Looking anywhere but at him.
“You don’t look like the others.” Lotor began, and Allura let out an uncaring laugh.
“Surely you don’t expect every girl of royal blood to be a great beauty?”
“Surely I don’t, but even those who are not, at least take some effort with their appearance.” He expected her to be insulted, but she hardly even blinked in response. “Tell me princess, do you purposefully go out of you way to look so unflattering?”
“I am from a simple world, your highness.” Allura retorted. “We don’t have much in the ways of luxuries, and our day to day concerns weigh more heavily than any vanity could.”
“I would think Arus would make some effort though…considering all it stands to gain if you were to become my bride.” Lotor pointed out, more than a little snide. “Certainly a little of the treasury could have been spent to at least fit you with a more fashionable dress. One that doesn’t have you swimming in it’s fabric.”
“Certainly it could have.” She agreed. “But I find there are far more important things to spend my planet’s treasury on than a few dresses to impress a prince.”
“What else could there be?”
Even behind the tint of her spectacles, her look was annoyed. “There is more to life than just pleasing you, my Lord.” Her tone was withering now, the girl turning cold. “At least…that is the way of things on Arus.” She sighed, but didn’t appear to be trying to make him pity her. “Life is tough on Arus. Why should we be concerned with a prince of some far off kingdom? As much as a match between us would benefit my world, I cannot have my people suffer the pangs of starvation, or know illness’ touch just on the off chance a pretty dress might sway you in my favor. I am not that cruel.”
“Just how bad off is Arus then?” Lotor asked, feeling his own aghast feelings stirred. Was she more pauper than princess? If the answer was yes, no wonder Haggar had been so disapproving!
“We manage.” Was her answer. “But of course, Arus would be better off if Doom were to grace us with it’s aid…”
“Ah, so you are a fortune hunter true and true.”
She took offense to that. “I am no gold digger! Any aid Doom lent us, Arus would be sure to repay it.”
“My father has never been one for charity work.” Lotor retorted, not trying to soothe her ruffled feathers. “He’d want something more than just a repayment for any coin he tossed Arus’ way. He’d want to turn a profit off the backs of your people.”
Lips that looked far better smiling, frowned again. “My people would do what they could to make Zarkon’s charity worth his while…”
“I suggest you take this up with my father then, and not me.” Even before Haggar could end the dance for him, he was letting go of Allura. She didn’t stumble when free of his arms, just studying him curiously.
“Would he honestly listen to me?” She asked.
Lotor could only shrug. “One can never say for sure.” He was ready to walk away, but the look in her eyes stopped him. It was a sad, almost lost look, speaking volumes of Allura’s frustration. “Princess, I do wish you all the luck in championing your planet’s needs.”
“Th…thank you…” She responded with startled sincerity. He gave a tight, unhappy smile, knowing Allura had her work cut out for her. It would take a lot more than simple pleading to get Zarkon to care about Arus. Just as it would take a lot more than a smile to get Lotor to care about Allura. He was annoyed then, wondering why he still thought about that smile he had gain a brief glimpsed of.
Allura stepped away from him, content on fading to the background. But she didn’t stray far enough from his thoughts, Lotor thinking he understood her just a little bit better. She wasn’t really here for him. Lotor was simply a task she undertook, one that if successful would gain her planet the money and aid needed to further it’s progress. Pity for her and Arus that Lotor wasn’t interested in making it that easy for her.
His eyes were looking over the crowd of women, the bridal hopefuls trying not to look too eager. They were still unsettled by the fact he had chosen to dance with Allura. Especially so soon. Allura while not ugly, was so plain as to be unremarkable. She should have been one of the last women he would want to spend any amount of time with!
Trying not to grumble that his thoughts were still going back to the Arusian princess, Lotor spied Princess Romelle. A predatory look filled his eyes, lids lowering as he began walking towards her. Any who tried to stand in his way, were quickly dismissed, Lotor leaving a trail of heart ache behind him. But he would not be deterred, Lotor not stopping until he was standing before the blushing princess of Pollux, hand extended.
She was even more lovely close up, Lotor gazing into her sapphire colored eyes. She hesitated a charming instant, before laying her hand on top of his. The women around them were disappointed, but nowhere as disgruntled as they had been when Lotor had chosen Allura as his partner. He saw many a green gaze, as he led Romelle from out of the crowd.
Taking advantage of the nearness the dance put upon them, Lotor let his one hand grip her slim waist. His other held on possessively to her hand, Lotor staring down at Romelle who gazed up at him shyly. The music that played didn’t matter, Lotor leading Romelle in the dance. His eyes drank in her beauty, her own blush seeming to increase in response to the way he looked at her.
“How are you enjoying Doom?” He finally asked her.
“Doom is…” Her hesitation made him laugh, Lotor making a sympathetic noise.
“It’s different from Pollux, isn’t it?”
“It’s certainly harsher than anything I’ve ever known.” Romelle agreed. “Not that, I’ve had a chance to see much of your planet beyond the castle.”
“Perhaps I can show it to you.” Lotor suggested, eagerness filling him as he imagined a private outing for the two. Away from the castle, from the bridal candidates, and even his father, Lotor might finally get a chance to get under this princess’ skirts.
“I…” Again a hesitation, a troubled look in her eyes before she chased it away with a smile. “Yes, if it would be no trouble for you…”
He wondered at the reason behind that hesitation, but seized on the opportunity her words offered. “No trouble at all!” He smiled at her, a teasing twist of his lips. “Of course, you’ll have to return the favor sometime.”
“Yes, of course. I would be glad to show Pollux to you.”
Pollux wasn’t what he really wanted her to show him, but he smiled all the same. “Excellent. Then it is a promise.”
“Although…I imagine you won’t have much time for me.” Romelle continued, to his surprise.
“Why ever not?”
“I am not the only woman here. There are many, some almost desperately eager for your attention.” She pointed out, her lips twitching as though Romelle fought a smile of her own.
“I’ve always found desperation in a woman an appalling trait.” He told her.
“That doesn’t change that we are all here with the same purpose in mind.”
“Not all.” Lotor inwardly cursed, his thoughts once again making him remember Allura.
“Oh?” Romelle arched a golden eyebrow. “Whatever do you mean?”
“That princess of Arus…do you know her?”
“Quite well in fact.” Romelle told him. Again that twitch of her lips, a fond look appearing in her eyes. “She is a distant cousin of mine.” Lotor must have worn an astonished look, for Romelle let out a little laugh. “Is it really that surprising?”
“Well…yes!” Lotor was blunt. “She looks nothing like you!”
Romelle didn’t quite succeed in hiding her uncomfortable look. “There’s no denying the blood connection between us.”
“Is Pollux a poor planet?” Lotor suddenly asked, hoping against hope it was not. “Like Arus?”
“Oh no, Pollux is nothing like Arus!” Romelle quickly protested. “We are more a military outpost than the rich, fertile farm land that makes up the majority of my cousin’s world.”
“That is a relief to hear.”
“We support each other though.” Romelle continued. “Arus is the sister plant of Pollux, and we lend what military aid we can to it.”
“I suppose Arus pays you back with the food it grows?”
“Something like that.” Romelle nodded. “Arus is a beautiful world…a real paradise in terms of looks. It’s bears little resemblance to my own home, Pollux.” She shook her head then. “My cousin, she would not do well on Doom. It is too cold, too barren, too different from Arus.”
“I think your cousin has little too fear on that front.”
“What do you mean?” asked Romelle.
“I’ll be honest with you. Your cousin stands little chance of getting anywhere with me.” He would have smirked if not for Romelle’s next question.
“Why?” She asked it in a stiff manner, tone displeased.
“She’s not my type…” Lotor answered, and Romelle frowned harder.
“How can you say that, when you’ve just met her? When you’ve just met us all? One dance is hardly enough time to tell just who would suit you best…” He didn’t like what Romelle was saying, Lotor fighting not to glower. Especially when she gave him a challenging look, lips quirked in a disapproving way. “Or are you telling me you will base your decision solely on how a woman looks?”
“I won’t lie and say that looks don’t play a part in it.” Lotor retorted. “But there are other things to consider, her planet’s finances one of them.”
“But if its love…”
“Princess, you are not that naive to believe that those in our station can marry for love? We do what’s best for our kingdoms, making the match that will serve our people’s interest the most. No…” Lotor shook his head. “Allura and Arus are hardly suitable for Doom. She is wasting her time, and all of ours just by being here…” Romelle didn’t succeed in hiding the upset look in her eyes. “Does this truth hurt you?”
“You’ll think me a silly, naive girl.” She said this softly, and Lotor tried to give her a reassurance.
“I might not…”
“But I? I want to marry for love.” Romelle’s revelation wasn’t that surprising, and he told her as much.
“You are young still.” Lotor told her. “Young enough not to be disillusioned by the demands of your position. Love is an admirable goal…but one day you will have to realize, the good of the kingdom comes before the good of the heart.”
“So I fear…” She whispered, bowing her head in an attempt to hide her sorrow. He wondered at that, thinking such sorrow had to be born of some deeper wound. But Lotor didn’t know Romelle well enough yet, to even guess at why she could be so sad. And neither did he have the time to pry, Haggar appearing at his side. Lotor sighed, and reluctantly let go of Romelle.
“Thank you for the dance.” She murmured softly, before stepping away from him. Haggar was already goading him onwards, reminding him that the day could not last forever. He HAD to dance and spend that time speaking with each of his prospective fiances. It wasn’t normally a chore to speak with beautiful women, but Lotor felt the pressures of the day crowding in on him.
He didn’t know it then, but the pressure was only just beginning. The days that followed would be just as busy, Lotor force to abandon all his usual games and pleasures, to spend getting to know the women who had come to Doom. The very women who hoped to gain his favor, who wanted the chance to become his wife. This dance was only the beginning, and sooner rather than later, Lotor would have to start making real choices about his future. Choices he wasn’t yet prepared to make, and could never hope to delay.