Her dreams for her son’s future were crumbling, doing a steady decline whose speed seemed to increase by day, faster and faster. Adaline seemed helpless to prevent it, watching as day by day Lotor left her side to go off with his father, the boy no longer protesting. Was it resignation or acceptance of his fate? She did not know, but Adaline noted her son often seemed dead inside.
It scared her so to see that empty look in his eyes, Adaline fearing for his soul and his sanity. No child was meant to see the kinds of horrors he did, be they Drule or human, Adaline was certain of that. But her husband insisted, dragging the boy from one soul destroying torment to the next, all in some insane quest to make a man out of him.
His latest in a long line of trials was the dungeons, that wretched, fetid place of death and decay. Long hours were spent deep in the bowels of the castle, Lotor trying not to disappoint his father with his reactions to the sights and sounds he bore witness too. But disappoint him he did, Zarkon often coming to rant and rave in Adaline’s face.
“He flinched Adaline!” Zarkon snarled, pacing before her. “Like a craven, cowardly human witnessing his first butchering.”
She sat in the corner, pretending not to listen, Allura’s stuffed robeast in her hands. The toy’s head had gotten loose again, Adaline working to sew it tight once more. But her mind was distracted from the task, Adaline often pricking her fingers on the needle’s point as she secretly watched her husband’s restless walk.
“He gets it from you.” Zarkon continued, shaking his head with a tsk. “From the human blood that poisons his veins.”
She bit back a remark about how he should have never made a child with a human in the first place, Adaline knowing she would not have chosen this man or this life to give to her son. She tried not to imagine how different all their lives would have been if she had never set foot on Doom, knowing she only tormented herself with what ifs.
“It wasn’t even that big a deal, just a finger severed from a woman’s hand.” Zarkon stopped to send an accusing glare at Adaline. “But she screamed, and cried, generally making a nuisance of herself. The boy pitied her! Pity!” He snorted, disgust in his tone. “Another of your gifts, that wretched emotion.”
She thought it a small miracle that Lotor still retained some part of himself to manage that small display of pity. Her husband not so, the man angry, waves of disappointment rolling of him.
“Of course I’ve taken measures to squash such feelings.” She looked up at that, seeing the cruel smile that blossomed on her husband’s face.
“What have you done?” Adaline asked with a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach.
“I’ve imprisoned him in the dungeons. He’s strung up next to the woman..” The grin widened, showing off his row of teeth. “Of course you needn’t worry about the woman’s screams hurting his precious hearing. I’ve since snuffed out whatever spark of life still remained within her.”
Adaline blinked, shocked and dismayed at the thought of her son hanging next to a dead woman for any amount of time, let alone the time it would take Zarkon to decide the boy had suffered enough.
“Are you that determined to destroy him?” She asked, Zarkon tilting his head to one side. “Why do you hate our son so much?!”
“Hate has nothing to do with this!” He retorted, smile fading to be replaced by a more serious look. “It is because I care that I go to such lengths. The Drule will eat him up, till nothing remains, not even his bones. He must be strengthened if he hopes to ever stand a chance of seriously ruling over them.”
“He doesn’t want to rule! Especially over such a vicious people!” She snapped out, incensed when Zarkon began to laugh. “You’re monsters all of you, stamping out whatever good is inside him. Horrible people, deplorable….less than scum in my eyes. Why…” She broke off with a choke out gasp, Zarkon’s hand suddenly around her throat.
“Careful Adaline.” He warned, tone and mood more dangerous than it had been previously. “Do not be so quick to insult me and mine. The Drule is a proud race, a warriors’ race. We are many things, but scum we are not.” He watched her gag for breath a few moments longer, the king studying her eyes. When he deemed she had suffered enough he let go, Adaline sinking ungracefully in her seat, Allura’s toy cast carelessly off her lap.
She sat trying to recover for the next few moments, listening as she took in great wheezing gasps of air. Zarkon seemed annoyed by the sound, looming over her as he waited impatiently for her to stop.
“If…if you truly cared…” She began, noting how her throat still hurt where he had gripped her. “You’d let Lotor go. Let him leave Doom, leave your influence and start a new life somewhere else.” To Adaline’s annoyance Zarkon laughed at that, a mean snicker of sound as he shook his head no.
“And just what would you have him do?” Zarkon demanded, the wild gesture of his hand making her flinch. “What would you have him be?!”
“Anything but what you are trying to turn him into!” Adaline said plaintively.
“Hmph.” Zarkon snorted in disgust. “He was raised to be a prince. He wouldn’t even know what to do if he left the care and comfort of the castle!”
“He’s a smart boy.” Adaline argued. “He’d figure it out.”
“And leave me without my heir? I don’t think so.” Came his retort. “The problem with you Adaline is you don’t think of the big picture. You’re so concerned with saving his soul, his human side that you cannot see how unacceptable anything less than the crown is for my son.”
“And you’re so consumed with destroying any humanity left inside him that you are killing him inside!”
“He’ll survive.” Zarkon insisted.
“But at what cost?” Adaline asked.
“He’ll become a great man, a fine Drule. There is nothing more that either you or I could ask of him!” Try as she may Adaline could not get her husband to see the value in being something other than Drule. Zarkon continued to remain convinced he was doing right by the boy in his own twisted way. Adaline could only sit back and watch.
Her son remained in the dungeons, days more passing until word trickled up to her chambers, Adaline learning he was crying out for help. She understood that the cries only served to enrage her husband, his disappointment in their son forcing him to become even harsher to the boy. A decree came down from the throne, Zarkon commanding that Lotor could stay there and rot, either die from the shame of his weakness or learn to muscle up and become a man who did not give in to tears.
Either thing was unacceptable to Adaline, the woman realizing she had to act. Indeed she felt shame for not doing so sooner, Adaline wishing she had done something more than argue with her husband. Her words had no effect on him, they never did, leaving her breathless and angry but accomplishing nothing. Worse than nothing, it left her son’s faith in her shaken, the boy surely feeling abandoned and alone.
She left Allura alone in her chambers, the girl happy enough to sit and play with her dolls. Such was Allura’s behavior, that Adaline knew she would remain inside the room, having no reason to venture out with Lotor being gone from the room that they shared.
Marching with a purpose, Adaline could not help but be reminded of that time some five years ago when she had learned of another child being kept inside the castle dungeons. Every step seemed to resonate with memories, Adaline reexperiencing the fear and horror of that time, the emotions mingled with a fresh wave of terror and upset.
But fighting against the fear was a strong surging emotion, a mother’s love and rage at the injustices done to her son. It moved her feet where she would have faltered, Adaline storming past the guards, lips pursed into a thin line of disapproval, blues eyes shining clear with a purpose. She was going to save her son, and let no one, man or Drule stop her!
This time there was no guard to follow her each and every step of the way, the men making themselves scarce. They wanted no part of this madness, though she knew that they wouldn’t be against running to inform her husband of what she intended to do. The thought just made her hurry, Adaline stepping quicker, skirts swishing around her legs as she all but ran down the stone steps that led into the dungeon.
The smell hit her halfway down the stairs, her sense of smell overridden, Adaline gagging on her breath. If possible the dungeons smelled even worse than she remembered, Adaline shivering as other unsavory aspects made themselves known. The screams were heard, people begging, people crying, people damning the Drule. An air of hopelessness infused the dungeons, making Adaline’s skin crawl long before she set foot off the stairs.
“Lady Adaline!” The dungeon master was nowhere to be found, one of his lackeys hurrying to greet her. She looked at him, and whatever he had been about to say
died down, the man bowing his head.
“Open the gate.” Came her soft but firm order. “I’ve come for my son.” The man’s eyes widened, he shook his head, Adaline fighting back a growl. “Open the gate, damn you!”
“This is sheer folly!” He warned, watching as she advanced on him. She would not be stopped, not without a fight, not without the physical wounds to show she had attempted to reach her son. “You’ll bring trouble for us all.”
“He’s my son. And your prince.” She pointed out, and he sighed.
“But my king has given an order….”
“An order that will destroy the prince. And dungeon keeper?” Her eyes narrowed, Adaline trying a malevolent glare out on the man. “When that ruined boy is older, and sits on the throne? I will make sure he remembers your refusal to help him.”
The man visible swallowed, the thought disturbing him. Adaline could see him weighing the pros and cons, should he risk the king’s anger now, or face the boy’s in the future. Adaline wanted to press him even further, to remind him of all the things that had been done to Lotor to make him into a Drule Zarkon would find worthy. But she kept quiet, hoping and praying she had said enough.
“Fine, damn you!” She didn’t wilt with relief, holding herself stiff and angry as he walked towards the gate. “But make sure the prince remembers this act.”
“You will be well rewarded under his rule.” Adaline was surprised at how easily the lies came to her, the woman hurrying through the gate before the man changed his mind. She paused only long enough to snag a spare lantern, casting light all around her as she walked through the dungeon, listening to the cries and the obscene catcalls that followed her every step.
Her journey seemed endless, Adaline passing by cell after cell, searching for her son. She found him at the very end, where the cells ceased to be, and the floor became the private area where the dungeon master practiced his brand of tortures. Her nose wrinkled as the smells grew worse here, she could smell human filth and death, the stench of a rotting corpse making her wretch.
How did her son with his sensitive nose handle the smells? How did any Drule? Her only answer was that they eventually became inured after a time, especially those who dwelled in the dungeons for most of their adult lives. It certainly explain the dungeon master and his minions, the men seeming to revel in the smells that were the results of their cruel handiwork.
The sights were even worse, human slaves and Drule criminals strung up before her son, hanging from chains or spread out on steel racks, various tortures being done to them. Adaline’s eyes refused to process what she was seeing, the woman sure she couldn’t be witnessing the dungeon master flaying the skin off a still alive Drule.
She should have known Zarkon would not be content to merely leave her son here in the dungeons, but the shock still hit her hard. He seemed determined to inundate her son with sights meant to strengthen him to the cruelties Zarkon felt a king must perform.
Her gasp wasn’t heard over the screams, her son’s voice mingling with those who begged for death. He struggled and sobbed, rattling his chains, the boy dirtied and scared. Adaline all but flew to his side, side stepping the men who tried to get in her way, the woman reaching out to her son. “Oh my darling boy…” She sobbed, her hands gently touching his cheeks. Lotor flinched at the contact, seeming not to recognize her at first.
“Mother?” He whispered at last, and the tears flowed down both their cheeks.
“Yes, I’m here.” She confirmed to her son, fingers gently caressing back his dirtied hair from his face. He blinked at her, torn between wanting to believe and failing, the boy letting out a sob.
“Mother! Help me!” he begged, then fell silent as the dungeon master’s shadow fell over them.
“Lady Adaline.” His gravelly voice gritted out, the man covered in blood and flakes of skin. “You risk much in coming here.”
“I could do no less for my son.” She halfway turned so she could eye the Drule, keeping her hands on Lotor, her touch seeming to comfort him. “Please…..let him down.”
“The King will not be pleased by this.” The dungeon master murmured, and she gave a shrug, faking a lack of concern.
“I am prepared to bear the brunt of his anger.”
“You know not what you say….you only think you are.” The dungeon master told her. “He will be angry yes, both at you and the prince. I fear what he will do.” She
shivered at his words, Adaline wondering why the Drule was telling her this much. “The King…he….he is obsessed with his son. It is like nothing I have ever seen, and believe me when I tell you I have seen many atrocities committed in my long years in his service.”
She bit her tongue to keep from speaking, Adaline wondering if that was compassion that moved the dungeon master to speak. She appreciated his honesty, finding it refreshing that someone other than she could see the wrongness in what her husband was doing.
“It would go better for you both if you left the boy here.”
“Better?” She made a dismayed sound, lifting her one hand from Lotor to give a gesture that encompassed the tortures going on around them. “Better than this? Better than letting Lotor continue to watch this spectacle, his mind, his soul shattering piece by piece?”
“What doesn’t kill the boy will make him stronger.” The dungeon master pointed out.
“Now you sound like my husband.” Adaline sighed. “Please….let him down. Let me take my son away from all this.”
“You only delay the inevitable.” The Drule said, reaching for the key ring that was fastened to his belt. “This will change nothing. The king will have his way.”
“Not today.” She said firmly, all but holding her breath as the man reached to undo Lotor’s manacles. She was waiting with her arms to catch her son, the boy dropping downward, nearly taking her with him.
“Mother…” He said weakly, leaning into her as she helped him to stand.
“It’s all right Lotor. We’re leaving now.”
“Thank you.” He whispered, and kept his eyes closed as they walked past the Drule whose skin had been torn open by a whip. They got but a few steps before the boy was vomiting, gagging up what little food they had fed him in the dungeons. Adaline knelt besides him, rubbing his back soothingly.
He recovered, using his sleeve to wipe off his mouth, Adaline helping him to straighten. Together with their arms around each other, the pair traveled through the dungeon, Lotor’s steps slow and unsteady. Adaline was no less shaky them him, feeling as though a fist had been slammed into her gut and all because of the horrible things her son had endured.
Their progress was slow, but eventually they made it out of the dungeons, her son sucking in a grateful breath of the first clean smelling air he had had in long while. Wearily, they made it back to their living quarters, Adaline ushering Lotor into his room. He wanted to lay down immediately, but she insisted he get clean, the boy sighing a long drawn out sound of defeat.
She left him alone to bathe, heading for her chambers, her hands brushing at her wet eyes. She entered the room and stopped up short, having spied Zarkon waiting for her. He stood at her arrival, his eyes furious, one of Allura’s dolls in his hands.
She cast a panicked glance around for Allura, frightened out of her wits for the child. “Whe….where is…?”
“I sent the brat away.” Zarkon told her, and she frowned at him. “I wanted no witness tempting though it is the thought of further traumatizing Alfor’s brat.”
“Witness?” She echoed, the word a question. Adaline had a bad feeling, the anger emanating off of Zarkon a palpable thing. “Where is Allura?”
“She’s safe. That is all you need to know.” He told her, his eyes narrowing into a glare. “I suppose your proud of yourself?”
She debated agreeing to that, Adaline wondering how much it would take to push Zarkon over the edge. “Proud?”
“Don’t play dumb Adaline. I know what you’ve done.”
“Then you should know I couldn’t abide by the things you were doing to our son. Not anymore!” She replied, with a shake of her head. “I would be remiss in my duties as his mother if I allowed such horrors to continue to be committed to our son.”
“Your duties?” He scoffed, hand fisting round the doll’s neck, it’s head popping off from the force he exerted. She tried not to flinch at the show, Adaline wary and keeping her distance from her husband. “You have failed as a mother longer before this.”
“That’s not true!” Adaline said quickly in protest.
“It is because I say it is!” He roared at her, throwing the doll on the floor where he carelessly stepped on it. “You have done the boy wrong at every stage of his development, trying to make him into the human he is not!”
“I have nurtured him with kindness and love, not with the knives of cruelty that is your trade. If that is wrong, than I do not wish to be right!”
“Tread carefully Adaline.” Zarkon warned, stepping closer to her. She refused to be bullied, holding her ground as she stared back at him. “My patience with you is fast coming to an end, as is it with our son.”
“Patience?” Adaline scoffed. “You never had an iota of patience for Lotor. You’ve treated him cruelly time and time again, made him endure horrible things. Don’t spout off that nonsense about it being the Drule way, I no longer will believe that even your people could be so callous and cold-hearted towards their own children!”
“Are you calling me a liar Adaline?” Zarkon demanded, a dangerous under current to his voice. She ignored it, all but shouting out her answer.
“Do not raise your voice to me!” Zarkon snarled, his hands curling into fists. “Especially now, when I am so close to losing it.”
“I think you lost your mind long before this day!” She retorted, not bothering to lower the volume of her voice. “I do not know what goes through that twisted mind of yours, nor do I want to!”
“The fear would choke the breath out of you if you could read my mind in this moment.” Zarkon hissed. “Adaline, what were you thinking? You’ve accomplished NOTHING today save earn my anger and contempt.”
“I’ve given our son a small piece of mind!” She shot back. “I’ve restored his hope, his soul.”
“All things I can easily crush!” Zarkon shouted. “What good have you done him, except delay the shaping of the future king of Doom?” He snorted then, bitter amusement in the sound. “I’m returning him to the dungeons. There he will stay until I deem him fit to leave.”
“Yes.” He breathed. “There is nothing you can do, can say to change my mind. Not even if you whore yourself out to me will that save Lotor from this fate.”
Her own hands curled into fists, Adaline stamping down the impulse to slap her husband across his face. “I’ll stop you!” She swore. “You can return him to the dungeons a million times, and each time I will rescue him, taking him out of that cesspit of despair.”
“Bitch!” cursed Zarkon, his hand suddenly moving, backhanding her across the face. She fell backwards to the floor, stunned and seeing stars, barely hearing him as he snarled at her. “You impudent bitch! You’ve defied me for the last time.” He dropped to a crouch before her, snatching at her arms, pulling her up to a sitting position. She stared dazed at him, too stunned and frightened to open her mouth.
“This will be just the first of many blows.” Threatened Zarkon, taking savage glee in her horror. “I’m through being lenient with you. You think what Lotor suffers is bad? It will be nothing compared to the punishments I will deal out to you.”
“Wh…what…” Her lip had split from his blow, Adaline could taste blood on her tongue.
“You will speak only when I allow you to!” Zarkon roared, striking her again. “Your fate will be tied to Lotor’s. For every tear, every moment of sniveling cowardice, you will pay the price. And Adaline? It won’t be sex I take from you this time.” He shook her, Adaline feeling as though her bones rattled from the force of the movements. “You’ll learn. Learn to want him to become Drule, yearn for him to become a man capable of ruling the Doom Empire.”
“Never!” Adaline managed to grit out, preparing herself for the next slap.
“You can and you will!” He shouted at her, nostrils flaring. “Not only will you do that, you will help encourage him down the path I have chosen, Or else your blood will be spilled, again and again for each failure.”
“No…” She didn’t know if she spoke the word out loud, or merely thought it, seeing Zarkon narrow his eyes further. She was already fainting as he raised his hand once more, Adaline barely aware of Zarkon saying something about how this was the punishment she had earned in freeing Lotor from the dungeons.