The wet season came and went without incident, their lives remaining much the same. Adaline found her weariness continuing, a troubled sleep the only respite she could find from the horrors and torments of the court. Her husband continued to pull at her strings, making her all but dance for his amusement, Adaline a mere puppet for him to control.
She thought at least the children were lucky, Zarkon’s interest in his wife’s abuse keeping him distracted from Lotor and Allura. He seemed content to ignore them both, so long as they didn’t make too big a scene with tantrums and tears, Zarkon finding that kind of behavior unacceptable especially where Lotor was concerned.
Spies abounded all around them, the guards and servants ever ready to whisper in their king’s ear, ready to report to him his family’s every move, good or bad. Even inside their private chambers, Adaline was conscious of being watched, the maids finding chores to use as excuses for lingering in their presence. Adaline could not always dismiss them, not when they had genuine work to do.
It just left her to up her guard, careful in her every action, every word. The children were oblivious to all this, continuing in their innocent, care free ways. They felt safe in the rooms they were limited too, unaware of the tension that mounted in Adaline whenever a servant was near. Adaline had to fight not to tense up for every scream, every tear, the woman overly conscious when her son showed too much human emotion.
But the boy was happy, Lotor almost always wearing a smile when he was free of his schooling. He still hated going to his lessons with a passion, Adaline unable to fault him for that. She felt the eight hours a day that was required of him to be too strict, it left him grumpy and agitated when it came time to leave in the mornings. Allura didn’t spend nearly as much time studying as Lotor, for even five hours seemed to be too much for the child to endure.
Everyday Adaline would take them to the school room, then sneak back to her chambers to catch up on some much needed sleep before it became time for Allura’s return. Somehow during all this, she found the time to attend court by her husband’s side, enduring the more sedate moments with an expression devoid of emotion. It was harder to remain unaffected during Zarkon’s entertainments, but Adaline was slowly learning.
Perhaps she wouldn’t have gone to all that trouble if she could have divined the future, Adaline not realizing she was on the verge of incurring her husband’s upset. Zarkon did not want an emotionless doll besides him, he didn’t want his wife to be an empty husk incapable of reacting. He wanted to see every tear, every flinch, every moment of stricken panic.
Adaline continued to practice her reactions, having to relearn all the tricks she had acquired in her years as Zarkon’s wife. She felt that soon she’d have a handle on her emotions, Adaline ready to become the ice queen once more. Maybe then Zarkon would tire of her, a day she longed for, Adaline wanting to do no more than spend time with the children.
It was a desperate, lonely existence, Adaline as friendless as she was helpless, her only interactions with her family and the people that her husband employed. She’d be bored if she wasn’t living wound up as tight as a bow string, ready to snap at any minute. She wondered how she didn’t go mad, Adaline wanting to scream out her rage and frustration.
She settled for furious activity, Adaline hurrying about the outer room of her private chambers, snatching things out of the busy slave’s hands. The slave looked frustrated by Adaline’s interference, but the woman dared not voice her displeasure. She merely moved on to some other task, shaking her head as she watched Adaline shake and unfurl a banner, Drule words written across it’s surface.
It wasn’t just the banner she tried to hang up, Adaline attempting to work the helium tank that a slave was currently using to fill up brightly colored balloons. The slave tried to assure her that he knew what he was doing, and still Adaline fussed over him. She was beyond the point of grating on their nerves, the slaves feeling they could get their work done a dozen times faster without Adaline’s brand of nervous help.
But she wanted everything to be perfect, this day one of the only times when she could be in total control. She had already been down to the palace kitchens, haranguing the cooks as Adaline made sure they used the proper ingredients for the treats she wanted made. Adaline would have cooked the cake herself, but she lacked all but the basic skills when it came to a woman’s work in the kitchen.
The balloons were collected, ribbons tied around their strings so that they formed small, colorful groupings. Some were tethered to furniture, while others were left to float about the room, single, solitary ones that floated as high as the ceiling would allow. The two slaves climbed on ladders, lifting the banner up high, placing it over the doorway to her bedroom where it would wait in welcome greeting to the one whose wishes was written on it’s paper.
Presents were being brought out, brightly wrapped gifts that Adaline and the slaves piled in a corner. It wasn’t just gifts from Adaline, the various lords and ladies of the court had decided to pay homage, all in an attempt to curry favor with their king. Adaline made sure the gifts from her were placed on the top, the woman confidant her son would like them best of all.
A blanket was then placed over the pile of gifts, ready to hide those colorful temptations from the children’s eyes. Games were brought out, traditional birthday activities meant to make a special day even more fun.
Adaline was just smoothing down the table cloth, fussing over non existent wrinkles when an excited squeal was heard at the entrance to the room. She smiled and turned, spying Lotor and Allura, the boy already rushing forward, his eyes huge with excitement. Allura hung back, not quite clinging to the guard who had been sent to fetch them from the school room. She seemed to be unable to settle on what to look at first, staring from the balloons to the banner, to the table full of food.
“Mommy, mommy!” Lotor danced around balloons that were attached to a chair’s back, his hands making grab for their strings. “Is this all for me?!”
“Yes, Lotor, it is.” Adaline told him, then let out a quick warning. “Mind your claws, the balloons are delicate.” A popping sound followed those words, the boy looking chagrined as a yellow balloon burst beneath his nails. “It’s all right Lotor….” Adaline assured him, smiling. “We have plenty more balloons for you to play with.” She was pleased to see him handling the balloons more carefully though, the boy no longer pressing his claws into their fragile surface.
She looked to Allura, the girl seeming overwhelmed by the sights. Adaline walked towards her, and Allura took a step forward, shyly presenting a piece of paper to the woman. “What’s this?” Adaline asked, taking it from her. Allura said nothing, but seemed anxious as she waited for Adaline to look at the paper. Adaline studied it for a few seconds, then her smile became more dazzling, the woman kneeling down to hug Allura.
“You did very good on your spelling test.” She praised her, and stood with Allura in her arms. “We’ll have to hang this on the board of achievements.”
“Yay!” Allura exclaimed, excited to have a new paper added to the board. Adaline kept it in her bedroom, the board cluttered with various papers, drawings and tests that Lotor and Allura did exceedingly well on.
Lotor had found the games, boxes opened, their contents spilled on the floor. “Oh boy!” He said, giddy beyond belief. “Pin the tail on the robeast! My favorite!”
“Addy…what?” Allura pointed at the banner, having given it the once over. Some of the words were too big for the girl to yet know, but Allura knew enough to recognize Lotor’s name among the words.
“Do you know what today is Allura?” Adaline asked her, and the girl shook her head no. It was Lotor who answered, the boy grinning from ear to ear.
“It’s my birthday Allura!” He announced, and Allura seemed to teeter between awe and excitement. Her reaction only intensified as Lotor gave a proud toss of his hair. “I’m eight years old today!”
“Lotor big!” Allura decided, which pleased the boy. He returned his attention to sifting through the game boxes, but Allura took on a serious expression. “Addy….when?”
“When what Allura?” Adaline asked.
Allura hesitated, and it was enough for Adaline to realize the girl was about to say something complicated for her. “When…when is Allura’s birthday?”
“Yes, when!” Lotor called out, but he didn’t take his eyes off the games at his feet.
Allura’s question gave her pause, Adaline not sure of what day to tell her. Especially with Allura seeming too young to recall when her special day was. “It’s soon.” She finally said, vowing to try and find a record or birth announcement in the archives of Arusian history.
“Hmmm…” Allura seemed to accept this, then began squirming, wanting to be set down. Adaline let her go, and Allura hurried towards Lotor, eager to see what had his attention. She hovered behind the kneeling boy, peering down at the selection of games he touched.
“Let’s play this one Allura!” The boy decided, holding up a board game. Ever ready to agree with whatever Lotor had to say, Allura nodded, and Lotor began setting up the game. Adaline joined them, kneeling down on the floor, picking out a bright purple game piece as her token.
There was much laughter and joking, the three enjoying themselves. The minutes moved fast, and soon the chef arrived with the cake, a large round cover over it to hide it from Lotor’s notice. He smelled it all the same, the boy lighting up even further as he exclaimed, “CHOCOLATE!”
Adaline had to make a grab for him lest he tackle the chef where he stood. Lotor squirmed against his mother, making protesting sounds, his wide eyes watching the chef as he set the tray down, and uncovered the cake. The candles were lit, eight of them in all, and it was only then that Adaline released her hold on her son.
“Now don’t blow out the candles until we sing your birthday song…” But it was too late, the boy had reached the table, and was puffing away, taking three turns before he blew out each candle. Adaline let out a sigh, but she wasn’t really bothered by her son’s over excitement.
“Can I cut the cake?!” Lotor asked, already reaching for a knife. Adaline reached him just in time to stop him from cutting an overly large piece for himself. She had to
chuckle at that, noting he had tried to cut the cake into two halves, intending for Allura and Adaline to split one side, while he got the larger piece.
“Here..” Adaline took his hand, and began cutting the halves into smaller slices with him. “We’ll cut it together.”
“Mommy! That’s too small!” Lotor protested, a half pout on his lips as his plans for cake domination were diminished.
“It’s just the right size.” Adaline told him, beginning to place slices onto plates. Allura had finally abandoned the board game, coming over to pull herself up onto a seat at the table. She stared at the cake, Adaline smiling at her. “You’ll like this Allura. It’s chocolate and ice-cream combined into one.”
A slice was pushed before Allura, the girl not bothering with the plastic fork besides her plate. She dipped a finger into the purple and blue icing, tasting it, then making a face. It appeared the icing was a little too sweet for the girl’s liking.
“It’s okay.” Adaline reassured her. “You don’t have to eat the icing if you don’t like it.”
“Besides!” Lotor said, digging into his slice with his fork. “The chocolate’s the best part.” He spoke with his mouth full, brown crumbs falling from his lips.
Allura picked up her fork, and poke suspiciously at her cake, coming away with a bit of the ice-cream. She took the bite, and smiled, proclaiming the cake yummy in Arusian.
“It is yummy!” agreed Adaline, working to eat her own slice. She ate at a more sedate pace than the children, Lotor all but gobbling his up and reaching for another slice. It left Adaline wondering if the boy would even try any of the other treats on the table, Lotor so intent on bloating his stomach with the cake.
Once he had his fill, Lotor hopped out of his seat, forcing Adaline to chase after him to clean up his face from the chocolate smeared all over his mouth. Allura continued to work on her first slice of cake, the girl’s appetite small in comparison to a healthy, growing Drule. Her slow pace annoyed Lotor, the boy rushing over to grab at her hand.
“Let’s play!” He demanded, nearly knocking her over when he tried to pull her out of the seat.
“Lotor, let Allura finish eating…” Adaline admonished, but the girl was already moving to respond to Lotor’s order. Sometimes Adaline worried the girl was too quick to obey, Adaline hoping Allura would start to develop some independent desires from Lotor’s.
The children resumed playing, Adaline taking a moment to herself to clean up the plates, and toss out the candles. When she finished, Lotor had the robeast game out, the boy trying to hang the picture on the wall. Adaline came over to help him, and the game got underway. Lotor was blindfolded, and spun around five times before pushed in the general direction of the picture.
He was shaky but confidant as he walked, all but slamming the tail into the picture. His smile faded when he removed the blindfold and saw the tail was pinned to the robeast’s nose. He grew even more sullen when Allura got the tail in the correct place on her first try, sure the girl had cheated somehow. He tried again, and again, the boy insisting they keep playing until he finally won a round.
Even Adaline had a turn, the woman feeling silly as she stood blindfolded, the two children grasping her hands, trying to make her spin. They were laughing and giggling, overly pleased by her participation. She took a wobbly step forward, feeling far too dizzy for her own good, and the giggles suddenly stopped. The light hearted feel of the party seemed at an end, Adaline scrambling to remove the blindfold.
She didn’t gasp out her displeasure, spying her husband standing in the doorway, watching them. Behind him were two guards, one holding a long box, the wood a dark black with ornate gold filigrees decorating the top. Adaline didn’t know what to make of this, not having bothered to extend an invite to Zarkon for the day’s festivities. After all he never celebrated Lotor’s birth, not since that first day in the delivery room back before his high hopes for the boy had not been dashed.
Zarkon wasn’t saying anything, and neither were the children, a staring contest being held. Neither party would look away, leaving it up to Adaline to break the silence. “My king…” She began, voice dull and without inflection. “To what do we owe the honor of your visit on this day?”
“Adaline…” For one brief moment she feared he was about to take her away from the party, but aside from a nod at her, his attention was all for Lotor. “Come here son.”
Lotor was uncertain, anyone could see that, the boy taking hesitant steps towards his father. If his slow walking annoyed the king, Zarkon hid it well, watching with an impassive look on his face as Lotor drew near. Their son looked up at his father, his neck craned back to see the very tall Drule’s face. Adaline noted the tension in her son’s small frame, the way his fist clenched, the boy fighting not to bring it to his mouth.
It was a day of rarities, Zarkon suddenly smiling at the boy, reaching out to touch Lotor on the top of his head. The boy actually flinched, and though Zarkon’s eyes hardened at the movement, he was without comment about it. “You’re what, eight years old today?”
Lotor nodded, seeming relieved when his father stopped touching him. “Ah….then you’re old enough.”
“Old enough for what?” Adaline asked, suspicion in her tone. Zarkon ignored her, gesturing for the guard holding the box to step forward. Zarkon busied himself opening the gold latches, the box revealing pitch black silk that covered the contents inside it. Zarkon carefully lifted the silk, then grasped hold of the object, a steel sword with a hilt that was far too plain to match the extravagant box it came in.
“Do you know what this is son?” Zarkon asked, carefully turning the sword this way and that, letting the light of the room reflect off the blade.
“Is….is it my birthday present?” Lotor asked, his eyes following every movement of the sword.
“You may call it that if you like.” Agreed Zarkon, Adaline leaving Allura by the wall to stalk purposefully towards her son and his father. “Here….hold it…” Zarkon helped Lotor to grasp hold of the hilt, the boy somehow managing not to drop it in the process.
“Cool…!” breathed out Lotor, staring at the sword in his hand.
“My king…” Adaline had reached them, and she struggled to keep the anger out of her voice. “You are simply too generous.”
“I sense a but coming on Adaline.” Zarkon grumbled, straightening to look at her.
“The gift is too much…” She began, trying to find an acceptable excuse to refuse it. “You spoil him.”
“I am being practical.” Zarkon said, staring past Lotor to make a cold proclamation .”Starting tomorrow, I will begin instructing my son in the use of that sword.”
Lotor had taken a step back, and now he was waving the sword around, every slice through the air causing Adaline to wince and worry that he would cut something, most likely himself, with the blade.
“Tomorrow?!” Adaline gasped out loud, staring at Zarkon as though he was mad. He probably was, if he truly meant to teach a child so young the art of handling a sword. “Can it….can it not wait a few more years?”
“He needs to learn Adaline. The sooner the better.” Zarkon told her, then gave a cursory glance around the room. “Do enjoy this day. For the time for such childish celebrations will be at an end soon enough.”
Lotor was too enamored with the sword to pay attention to what his father was saying, the boy attacking a grouping of balloons. The blade was so sharp that the merest of pressure caused the balloons to pop, Adaline twitching at the quick succession of explosions she heard.
“Take it back.” She hissed, her words an angry order. Zarkon smiled at her, a sly crafty smirk that was mirrored on the two guard’s faces. “I mean it Zarkon, reclaim your gift! Lotor is too young to be handling such lethal weapons!”
“I was about his age when I was given my first sword.” Her husband said, not bothered by her anger. “It was a good time, a real bonding experience with my own father.”
“It will take more than a sword for you to forge a healthy relationship with Lotor.” Adalaine retorted, turning to keep track of Lotor and his sword. “If you must do this…” Her voice took on a pleading edge, Adaline trying to reason with Zarkon. “Then at least start him off with something safer. A wooden sword would be so much better for a boy his age.”
“Nonsense!” Zarkon said from behind her. “He needs to get used to hefting a real one.” He took a step closer, pressing his body into her back, his voice purring in her ear. “I could have given him a lazon blade.” A chuckle then, Adaline shivering at his nearness. “Imagine the destruction Lotor could do with one of those.”
She could hazard a guess, watching as Lotor attacked her favorite recliner, the steel tip of the sword getting stuck inside the chair’s back. Lotor pulled and twisted the sword’s hilt, trying to dislodge the sword to no avail.
“He has his schooling…” Adaline began, trying one last desperate time to dissuade her husband from this madness. “He won’t have time…”
“We’ll MAKE time.” Zarkon told her, and stepped away. He walked over to the struggling Lotor, and with ease pulled the sword free of the chair. He smiled as he returned the sword to his son, his voice almost happy as he spoke. “And what do we say in return for this fine gift?”
“Oh! Oh thank you father!” Lotor said, his excitement over the sword seeming to make Lotor forget all about his fear of his father. Zarkon nodded his head, then turned back to Adaline.
“It’s going to happen Adaline. With or without your approval.” He laughed then, and as he strode past her it was all Adaline could do not to reach out and strike him with her fist. Instead she settled for stony silence, watching as Zarkon and the guards exited the room.