Candidate 05

The unease Allura had experienced earlier, had come back, ratcheting up several notches in intensity. She hadn’t liked that the prince Lotor had singled her out for another conversation, brief though it had been. Nor had she particularly enjoyed it when the pink haired Queen had joined them, that woman raising Allura’s hackles in their mutual dislike of one another.

It was a strange feeling, to have such a strong dislike for someone so immediately. But Merla came off as brash, not to mention selfish, out only for herself. She hadn’t made any effort to get to know any of the women present here for this bride hunt. The Queen was totally focused on Lotor, on seducing the prince. Allura wouldn’t have cared about that, but the Queen had made an effort to single out Allura and mock her for her beliefs when it came to husbands and marriages. Pity for her, Allura had come prepared to mock back, to take the Queen to task for her selfish views. Merla hadn’t liked that, Allura’s persistence in the matter all but painting a target on her back. She had made an enemy out of Merla, and Allura didn’t for one second believe it would end with the Queen just walking away.

Allura would have to be wary of that one. Merla acted as though she was entitled, as though marriage to the Doom Empire’s heir was her God given right. She didn’t have to say it, but it was clear she resented the other women present, begrudging them all any time they might spend with the prince. To a woman like Merla, it was unacceptable that Lotor would single out Allura for any reason, but it was especially so when Allura seemed nowhere as appealing as the Queen.

Frankly Allura couldn’t understand it herself. Allura knew she wasn’t the prettiest in the room. It was a fact she was almost proud of, Allura having taken pains to make herself less than what she normally was. She had not bothered with any make up, any enhancements to her figure or her face. In fact what she had done was just the opposite, Allura having taken her two most distinguishing features and hidden them from sight.

Her waist length mane of glorious, golden locks? All piled up under a cap, a wig that itched placed on top of that. It wasn’t even that good a wig, the brown colored hair a listless shade, rather than the pleasing chestnut of the princess of Dukovenia. Nor was it styled in anyway, instead hanging scraggly down to her shoulders.

Her bright blue eyes that’s hues changed according to her moods? Hidden behind a pair of black rimmed glasses with a tinted lens that hide their brilliant color. The lens’ large, round shape gave her eyes a kind of owlish look to them, hiding the true beauty of her eyes.

Even her clothes were designed to distort the truth, the white dress she wore formless, downright baggy. It covered nearly every inch of her, from her throat down to her toes. She looked horrible, and anyone would think Allura hadn’t cared about the impact such an appearance would make. They’d never guess just what effort and thought she had expended, trying to hide how she really looked. And after seeing Lotor’s obvious reaction to her cousin Romelle, Allura felt more than justified in what she had done!

With her own long blonde hair, and expressive blue eyes, Romelle looked similar enough to Allura, that the two could almost be twins. Even their body types were similar, Romelle and Allura both gifted with slender waists, and large breasts. There was SOME differences, mainly in the fact that Romelle didn’t tan well, while Allura seemed permanently sun kissed. They each wore their hair in a different style, but still it was jarring to anyone who saw them, how identical in looks the two cousins were.

They shared more than just a blood relation. Allura and Romelle were each other’s best friend. And just like their planets were sister worlds, the two princess viewed themselves closer like sisters than cousins.

Even if they hadn’t been so close, Allura would have had to share her scheme with Romelle. Her cousin would have immediately known something was wrong the instant she saw Allura in her disguise. Instead, Romelle had helped Allura come up with it, the woman taking a temporary delight in putting one over on Doom and it’s prince.

Allura wished she could put the sparkle back in Romelle’s eyes for a more permanent duration of time. But she knew even if Lotor did NOT pick Romelle, her cousin’s husband woes would be far from over. It was just one of the reasons why Romelle hadn’t bothered with a disguise, knowing if she didn’t end up married to Lotor, her family would keep on looking for a suitable match for Romelle to be tied to.

Suitable was the key word, Romelle’s family not willing to settle for anyone less than the upper nobility. It was a pity for Romelle that she had already found love, a true match with someone who wasn’t royal at all. He wasn’t even part of the lesser nobility, and thus her family would never even consider him for the role of Romelle’s husband. Dutiful daughter that she was, Romelle was allowing them to break her heart, rather than act out against their decision.

Allura could understand that duty, the need to fulfil an obligation to not only one’s family, but to the people of one’s kingdom. Both Arus and Pollux needed to make strong alliances, and marriage was the quickest way to do it. Truly, love didn’t play a role in this, not for women of their positions. Not when they had duty, a debt to their people to repay.

Fortunately for Allura, her hands weren’t as tied as Romelle’s. If Lotor for some unforeseen reason, chose the princess of Arus, despite her disguise, Allura WOULD marry him. But she hoped it didn’t come to that. In fact, she would do anything, include hide her true appearance, in the hopes she’d turn the prince of Doom off from her completely.

She almost felt a hypocrite, for what she was doing if not for the fact most of Arus didn’t want to see Allura tied into marriage with a man who was part of the Empire that so oppressed them. She couldn’t say the same for Arus’ nobility. She knew they weren’t against the marriage, and would gladly sacrifice Allura in return for a peace that could be lasting. They didn’t want it to come to war, and truthfully neither did Allura. But she was aware of the secret Arus carried, the lifetimes work of both her father and grandfather.

It was called the guardian of Arus, though it was more weapon than defense. But more than that, it would be an equalizer, a way to level the field between Arus and Doom. With it in their possession, the people of Arus would no longer have to bend over backwards to please Doom.

With that weapon, there would be no more unreasonable taxes to pay, no more of Arus’ best and brightest being forced into the Empire’s military. Arus would no longer have to give up over a third of their exportable goods to Doom, but above all, the people of Arus would finally be able to live their lives free of fear.

Allura couldn’t remember a time when Arus had been truly free. Doom had been involved with the planet long before Allura had been born, the Empire making it’s presence known when Alfor had been just a child. Almost fifty years had gone by, Arus never able to grow strong enough to fight free of Doom’s hold on them. It was almost just as long since they had tried to mount any type of true resistance, Arus biding it’s time. Keeping a tentative peace that had everything to do with keeping Doom happy, no matter what their demands were.

Always, Allura and her people had lived in fear of an invasion. It was that fear that allowed them to put up with a great many injustices. And only because they knew Arus was a step away from losing what little freedom it had left, and becoming one of Doom’s enslaved worlds. The weapon her father and grandfather had helped to create, was about to change all that. Allura could do no less than to play a part in buying Arus just a little more time to put the finishing touches on the weapon.

It was her great hope that by the time Lotor settled on a woman to marry, the weapon would be completed. Surely just the threat of it, would keep the Empire from invading, and then talks could be opened to renegotiate how the relationship between Arus and Doom would now be.

Of course she didn’t think Arus could get away without some battlefield action. But once Doom saw the weapon at work, if the Empire was smart, it would accept the loss of Arus and back down from it’s threat.

Once free of Doom’s grasp, Allura would then never have to cater to a Drule’s whims. She certainly wouldn’t have to worry about courting a Drule prince just to keep up the appearance of maintaining peace! Allura wouldn’t be free to marry for love, but maybe just maybe, she’d have an actual choice on just who could be her future husband.

Allura was as she had said to prince Lotor, a realist. She knew that royalty seldom got to choose base on love, or even just attraction. Often it was the best political match a princess could make, that threw one into marriage with another. Virtual strangers, they could hate each other or worst, but the fortunate ones at least learned to become friends.

Cases like Allura’s father and mother were rare ones indeed. King Alfor and Queen Diana truly loved each other, though that love had blossomed after they had been married. Allura didn’t dare dream of being that lucky, nor did she want to give power to the idea of love. Not when she had seen how devastating it was to be denied that love due to her cousin’s own heart breaking.

She turned to look for her cousin now, wondering how Romelle was holding up in this situation. Prince Lotor has been visibly enamored with Romelle, constantly seeking her out, and giving her heated, lustful gazes. Those looks he gave Romelle, made it clear to everyone she was an early favorite at least where the prince’s lusts were concerned. Already there had been a few jealous grumbles, some hateful looks directed Romelle’s way. Allura wouldn’t be surprised if they singled Romelle out for some future spite, and she promised herself she would be on watch to guard against any trouble these others might do.

Allura wasn’t thinking that the trouble might find her instead, the princess moving towards the wall where Romelle stood quietly. The princess of planet Pollux was alone, most of the potential brides having gone to surround Lotor and Merla. Allura could hear a lot of giggling, but couldn’t make out what was being said. Nor did she particularly care what the topic of conversation was, so long as the attention was off her.

But there were a few women not as bold in their flirtations. A few shy stragglers, that lingered on the opposite side of the room. Allura wondered if they were here to maintain the illusion of peace between their worlds and Doom, or if they were simply biding their time for a quieter moment with the prince.

Romelle had noticed Allura’s approach, the blonde princess smiling at her cousin. Her face was pale, but then wasn’t it always, given Romelle’s inability to truly tan. Allura smiled back at Romelle, her eyes sympathetic behind the thick, tinted panes of her glasses.

“How are you holding up?” Allura asked in her native language of Arusian.

“I’m….” Romelle hesitated, looking listless. “I’m managing.” She answered in Pollux’s native language. Both princesses were fluent in each other’s language, and often enjoyed conversing in both. Especially when they were far from home, where speaking anything but basic was frowned upon. But speaking a mix of Arusian and Polluxian made it even more difficult for any would be spies to truly eavesdrop. It wasn’t a fool proof method, but it gave the cousins some manner of privacy.

Certainly they didn’t think any of the women in this room would know of the worlds they were from, let alone their languages! There was even one princess who didn’t know much of basic, a startling discovery when one realizes she was the heir to an empire almost as big as Doom’s!

“The prince seems to have taken a liking to you.” Allura said, which earned her a startled look from Romelle. Allura would have laughed at her cousin’s shock, if not for the fact she knew how much the idea of marrying a man she did not love, distressed Romelle.

“Has he?” Romelle managed to ask, and Allura nodded.

“He can barely take his eyes off you.” Allura said, her voice soft to gentle the words she was saying.

“He can barely stop looking at that Queen.” Romelle quickly countered.

“Queen Merla is beautiful.” Allura reluctantly acknowledged. “And she certainly tries hard enough to maintain what attention the prince gives her. But….”

“But?” Romelle prodded anxiously.

“His gaze always returns to you, the first chance he gets.” Allura pointed out. It was almost comical, how dismayed Romelle looked. “I’m not the only one to have noticed.” She added. “Some of the other women here are clearly threatened by you…”

“Please Allura….don’t tell me these things… ” Romelle begged.

“I don’t say it to be cruel.” Allura told her. “But you need to be prepared. If not for the prince, then the jealousy and pettiness of the other would be brides.”

“I don’t want to even be here.” Romelle complained. “I certainly don’t want to steal another woman’s chance at the prince…”

“I know.” Allura said sympathetically. “But we have to do what duty demands of us….”

“It doesn’t make things any easier. Having to give up the man that I love….knowing if not this prince, then some other world’s prince will be the one I am forced to marry….I don’t know if I can stand it!”

“But you must.” Allura touched Romelle’s arm. “You have to be strong, to endure these hardships for the good of your people.”

“It’s easy for YOU to be strong.” Romelle stepped out of Allura’s reach. “You’ve never been in love.”

It was a hurtful thing to say, Allura frowning at her cousin. “I’ve never been, and I never want to if it causes this much pain.”

“Allura….you can’t control when love happens.” A sad smile then. “Otherwise I would have kept my heart from falling for who it did.”

“Love is unpredictable, it’s true. But we can’t put our heart’s wants over our duty.”

“I know that.” Romelle insisted. “It’s why I didn’t kick up a fuss when my family insisted I come play court to Prince Lotor. But just because it’s my duty, doesn’t mean I have to LIKE it, or him!”

“I’m not asking that of you.” Allura pointed out. “I just wanted you to be prepared for what might happen…”

“And what about you?” Romelle asked, and Allura blinked in surprise.

“Me?”

“The prince danced with you.”

“He danced with everyone.” Allura pointed out quickly.

“Yes but…you were among one of the first five to be chosen. That’s quite an honor, especially given the fact you don’t look your best.”

She had to smile at that, at Romelle’s attempt to be kind in saying Allura had made herself into quite the mess looks wise. “I’m sure he just wanted to get the dance with me over with so he could concentrate on the more beautiful women.”

“Maybe.” But Romelle sounded doubtful. “But I noticed he saved the other undesirable for the very last.”

“You mean the child?” Allura asked, and shrugged. “He probably wouldn’t have danced with her at all, if not for the witch’s insistence.”

“Witch or not, there was no one pushing him to come single you out for another conversation so soon after that dance.” Allura shifted, uncomfortable once more. “What did you two talk about?” Romelle asked, and Allura shrugged.

“A little about love, but mainly about duty…and then that Merla interupted us, with her own thoughts on what she looks for in a good husband.” Allura sighed, exasperated. “Honestly, that woman! She acts as though a good lover is the most important thing! And she knows nothing of what she owes her people!”

“It may not be the most important thing, but sexual compatibility is key in a good relationship.”

Allura’s jaw dropped open at that, for one second speechless as Romelle colored an interesting shade of pink. “Romelle! You didn’t…..did you?”

Romelle fidgeted in place, Allura narrowing her eyes at her. “You tell me everything.” Allura stated. “You wouldn’t have kept something so important from me….”

“No I wouldn’t have.” Romelle said, unable to look at Allura. Her blush intensified, Romelle practically mumbling. “But I—WE wanted too!”

“Romelle!”

Now Romelle looked at Allura, her blue eyes defiant. “We came close…so many, many times! Do you know how much it hurt to stop? Do you have any idea? But he wanted to respect me! He wanted to marry me, to give me the security of his name! I love him for that, but I wish…”

“What….what do you wish?” Allura prodded when Romelle fell silent.

Brushing angrily at her eyes, Romelle quickly spat out. “I wish we had done it. Even if it was only one time, then at least a piece of me would always belong to him! But now we don’t even have that!”

Allura didn’t know what to say, standing there staring at her cousin who was practically in tears. “Oh Romelle…” She murmured, taking her cousin by the arm. She was intent on leading her to the curtained alcove where Romelle could either cry, or calm down, the Polluxian princess trying her best to hold back the tears in her eyes.

“It’s just not fair Allura.” Romelle continued to say. “Why did I have to be born a princess? Why couldn’t I have been a commoner like him?!”

“Here now…” Allura said, practically shoving her cousin past the curtains. “Sit and dry your eyes. I will get you some water for your face.”

Romelle didn’t bother with a response, covering her face with her hands. Her shoulders shook, the lowest of weeping heard from behind her hands. Allura practically fell over backwards in her attempts to leave the alcove, so ill at ease was she by her cousin’s upset. Allura didn’t like seeing Romelle in so much pain, but knew there was little she could do to truly help her get over such a loss. Nor was such a public setting, with so much at stake the time for Romelle to try and deal with her grief, one of the princesses having noticed the crying coming from behind the curtain. Allura couldn’t imagine what that princess thought was the reason behind Romelle’s upset, but it made her move all the quicker to get that water.

It was then that she went toppling forward, someone’s leg lashing out to trip Allura. She ended up on her hands and knees, Allura quickly reaching up to make sure the wig was still in place. More concerned with making sure her disguise hadn’t been ruined, Allura didn’t immediately look to see who had caused her to fall. And then the laughter started, a mean snicker of sound that was almost jarring given the sudden silence that had happened upon Allura’s fall.

She couldn’t help but turn red, Allura realizing that nearly everyone had seen her fall. And from the sound of their laughter, it was a great source of amusement to many present. Allura didn’t know who to glare at, seeing several potential suspects nearby. But not Merla, the Queen clear across the room, and still hanging onto a shocked looking Prince Lotor.

It was Allura’s turn to be shocked, when the prince pulled away from the Queen. The mean laughter began to die down, the women who had been so amused realizing the prince didn’t think what had happened was funny. The women were even less happy to realize the prince was heading straight towards Allura, the princess actually blushing even redder when he bent and extended a hand to her.

“Th…thank you….” Allura managed to stammer out, reaching to take his hand. He wore no gloves, Allura feeling the calluses that had to have come from his handling a sword.

“That was a nasty fall.” Lotor said, helping to pull her up.

Allura nodded, giving another look around the room. “Did you see who tripped me?”

Lotor frowned. “You were tripped?”

“You didn’t see?” Allura asked, disappointed.

“Human, don’t tell me you are trying to cover your own clumsiness by blaming someone else for your fall?” Merla had gotten over her shock, and was glaring daggers at Allura.

“I don’t falsely cast blame.” Allura retorted.

“But then…why would anyone want to cause you embarrassment?” Merla asked. “When you cause enough yourself.”

“What is that supposed to mean?!” Allura demanded, noting Lotor had yet to let go of her hand.

“You need look no further than a mirror…or don’t they have those on whatever pitiful world you come from?”

Allura colored at that, furious despite herself. “I suppose I should be flattered.” She said after having counted to ten in her mind. “After all, you wouldn’t be this big a bitch if you weren’t threatened by me.”

Merla’s look was furious, the Queen coming close to Allura. “Me? Threatened by you?” She made a scoffing sound. “Don’t be absurd.”

“And yet you seem to have a problem every time you see me near his highness.” Allura quickly pointed out.

“I just don’t want the prince wasting his kindness on an undesirable like you.”

“Better to be an undesirable than a hateful witch like you!” Allura retorted.

“Why you little…” Merla’s fury seemed to swallow up any insults she could make, the Queen curling her fingers into claws. Merla looked like she wanted to claw Allura’s eyes out, and only the fact that Lotor let go of Allura’s hand, and stepped in between the two woman, kept that from happening.

“Now ladies, it’s a little too soon to be fighting like this.” Lotor chided. “And it’s hardly becoming of either one of you.”

“She insulted me Lotor!” Merla snapped, still angry. “Time and time again!”

“Yes, and you’ve managed to insult her as well. I say you quit while you’re both even.” Lotor reached for Merla’s arm, tucking her close to his side. “Prove to me you can be the diplomat, and let this go.”

The look on Merla’s face said she didn’t want to do anything of the sort, the Queen not at all calmed by the fact Lotor held her close.

“Fine…” Merla finally said. “I’ll let this go….” A for now lingered unspoken, Merla shooting Allura one last dagger filled look.

Lotor smiled, leaving Allura to wonder how he could believe the Queen’s words. He then nodded at Allura, before allowing the Queen to drag him away. Allura was once again left watching his back, feeling uneasy, and wondering why he would even bother to care enough to help her up off the floor.


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