Porcelain 73

It had taken almost the full hour for the rebels to finish their preparations to abandon camp, Allura amazed at the efficiency displayed in breaking up their surroundings. The tents had been taken down, bundled into packs that also contained various goods. Everyone was taking part in carrying goods away from this location, even Allura had a heavy back pack strapped to her back.

It was almost more than she could carry, Allura sweating and straining under her burden. Her mother Diana moved next to her, looking equally put out by the pack and the bags she carried. Alfor was having a more easier time of it, Allura envying her father’s quick and sure steps. There was two more men with them, Garret and Layel, the rebels pulling double duty by acting as guards as well as carriers.

She envied the groups that had carts with them, the people piling the rickety wooden contraptions high with weapons and other belongings. There would be few of any items left behind for the Drules, the rebels transporting it all away. Only a few crates had been left behind, marking the clearing as what it had once been. Allura could tell to leave even those things behind had pained the rebels, but they had simply run out of the man power to carry everything away.

It wasn’t just the pack that had Allura sweating, the girl lifting a hand to brush at her damp forehead. She had been given a cloak, a wool garment that was far too heavy for the noon day sun. Even with the canopy of the trees blocking most of the sunlight from the woods, she perspired. Allura wished she could do away with the cloak, but the rebels had insisted, worried the Drules would somehow recognize her among the other slaves.

The plan of the rebels was to blend in with the slaves, not stand out, Allura’s party heading towards one of the towns that bordered the forest. At all costs they were to avoid Rugasta, word having traveled that it was a hot bed of Drule activity. Hundreds of soldiers were in the town, all present to guard their King. Allura was grateful for their presence, knowing they would die before letting the rebels lay one finger on Lotor.

There hadn’t been much talk about killing Lotor since that moment in Gorma’s tent, Allura wondering if it was because of how upset the topic had made her, or because Alfor still had some issue of mistrust towards her. She held back her sighs as Allura glanced at her father, the man walking a few feet in front of her. He wasn’t quite leading the group, Garret taking up position before him.

She knew somewhere ahead of them were other rebels, the men and women scouting ahead, leaving signs about what paths were safe to take, and where to turn away in case of danger from the Drules. Somewhere behind her was Layel, guarding the rear, the man almost silent as he moved through the forest. Not at all like Allura, who seemed to snap every twig and branch she came across, her feet causing rocks to bump and slide across the ground.

It was enough racket to rouse the dead, Garret complaining loudly about her clumsiness. It left Allura flush of face, the girl feeling as though she was a burden to the group.

“I’m sorry.” She said out loud, apologizing for the umpteenth time.

“It’s all right Allura.” Diana reassured her with a smile. “Your simply not used to this kind of pace.”

“Hmph.” Garret snorted. “Just what kind of spoiled life did the princess grow up with on Doom?”

It was hardly a question she wanted to answer, Allura sure she was blushing even harder. “I didn’t get out very much…” Allura murmured. “They kept Lotor and I confined to the castle.”

“Listen to her! Lotor and I!” Scoffed Garret. “Speaking so familiarly of that Drule.”

“I can’t change the past…” Allura began, upset with Garret’s tone. “And the truth is I was raised as the King’s friend, his companion.”

“And what a friend he is, imprisoning you on Arus, planning to kill you.” Garret pointed out.

“You understand nothing!” Allura snapped, sure she was shaking with her suppressed emotion.

“Then why don’t you explain it to us?” demanded Garret.

“I…”

“That’s enough Garret.” Alfor interrupted her. “Now is not the time for anyone to be rehashing a painful past.”

Garret muttered something inaudible under his breath, but seemed to drop the subject for now. Allura cast a grateful look in her father’s direction, but his back was to her, the man squeezing past trees.

“At least the woods are still intact.” Diana murmured besides Allura. She glanced at her mother, the woman’s breath huffing out slightly. “You can almost get a glimpse of Arus’ former beauty when surrounding by the forest.’

“I saw Arus from one of the ships.” Allura told her. “It makes a beautiful sight, even from out in space.”

“The land has been devastated by the Drule.” Diana continued. “So many of our towns and cities destroyed. Nature seems dead set on reclaiming the land from us…at least the segments of land that hasn’t been mined to the point of drying out.” She sighed then.

“Someday…Arus will be restored.” Alfor spoke then. “Our civilization will thrive, our homes rebuilt even better than they had been. You’ll get to see Arus as it was meant to be seen….a shining utopia.”

“I’d like that.” Allura said, even as she had doubts. She couldn’t shake the feeling that as things were now, the rebels were needlessly fooling themselves about the kind of results they would get. And yet she knew better than to try and make them see things from her point of view, knowing it she would only succeed in upsetting everyone.

She wondered if she could somehow sneak away from her parents and the guards, Allura wanting to get in contact with Lotor. It was more than want, she was desperate to speak to him, to earn his reassurance that they would somehow find a way to make things right for Arus and it’s people.

The small group of five had lapsed into silence, walking farther and farther through the forest. Occasionally Garret would stop them, leaving them guarded under the watchful eye of Layel. The young rebel would disappear past the trees, sometimes a full thirty minutes would pass before he returned. He’d often not comment on what he was doing, either allowing them to go the way he had gone, or sometimes directing them to a new path.

Allura was grateful for these times, for it allowed them the chance to set down their packs, and rest for a few moments. Already her feet felt as though they had swelled, her shoes suddenly too tight for comfort. Her legs were becoming heavy with every step, and her back ached something terrible. She leaned against a tree, her pack at her feet, wondering when and if this ordeal would be over with.

Her mother was drinking water from a flask, the woman looking as tired and red faced as Allura felt. Neither one seemed cut out for traveling with such heavy burdens, Diana pausing to sit down on the stump of a fallen tree. She even went so far as to dab some of the water onto a rag, Diana dabbing at her face with the damp material. “I’ll be glad when we reach that camp.”

“Is it much farther from here?” Allura wanted to know.

“It should be less than a mile’s hike.” Layel spoke up. “Provided we don’t have to take any unforeseen detours.”

She nearly groaned, both at the thought of how much more distance they had to travel, and the thought of extending that length with a detour. Diana smiled sympathetically at her, offering her the flask. Allura accepted gratefully, taking a long swallow of water.

“What will we do once at the slave camp?” Allura asked.

“Blending in is our first and foremost priority.” Answered her father. “We’ll have to play the part of frightened slave. We may even be forced to do some tasks for the Drules for the time being.”

“Great.” Groused Allura, recoiling at the thought of doing work after the long travel through the woods.

“When it’s deemed safe enough, we’ll move on to set up a new camp somewhere else.” Continued Alfor. “it’s my hope we won’t have to spend more than a week playing at being subservient to the Drule.”

“I see….” Allura murmured, the discussion seeming at an end. Everyone seemed to want to snag a few moments of time to themselves, resting wearily as they waited for Garret’s return. Allura almost dozed off at one point, the lack of a proper’ night’s rest catching up with her.

Her heart nearly leaped out of her throat when Garret’s voice came out loud and right besides her. “No time for sleeping princess! We got to get a move on!”

“Oh!” Allura was gasping, staring up at him wide eyed. He gave her a malicious smirk, the others seeming not to notice as they gathered their belongings.

“Come on. We still got a lot of ground to cover….” He was already turning away from her, Allura struggling to pull on her back pack.

“No detour this time….?” Allura asked, and Garret nodded.

“The markers signal it’s safe to go this way.” He let out a chuckle, a mean snicker of sound. “If you don’t keep holding us back, we’ll be able to reach the village soon.”

“I..” Flushing, Allura hastily bit out an apology. “I’m sorry. I’m really not used to all this traveling on foot!”

“A spoiled brat right to the heart…” muttered Garret softly, the others seeming not to hear him. She frowned at his back, ready to angrily retort about how her life had been anything but spoiled.

“It wasn’t all fun and games, my upbringing!” Allura snapped at him, trying her best to keep up with his hurried pace. “Yes, it may have been different from what you have known on Arus, but…”

“And just what do you think you know about Arus?!” Garret whipped around to sneer at her, eyes flashing with anger. It left her taken aback, Allura unsued to such hostility displayed at her in such an open manner.

“I…I…” She stammered, tongue tied.

He didn’t see fit to mock her stuttering, but advanced on her agrressively. “I wasn’t much older than you when the Drule took over Arus. You think I had time to play games and make friends? No! I was already working the fields, planting and picking crops. Watching my parents get beat if they didn’t work hard enough. Watching my neighbors fight each other for food! I don’t think anything you went through on Doom can compare to the life of a slave, not especially if you were the pampered pet of the
Drule prince!”

She stared at him horrified, shaking her head. “I wasn’t…that is…you think it was easy growing up with Zarkon’s abuse?! The things he did to his wife, and son and to me were horrible…”

“Poor princess.” He was snide, practically pinning her against a tree. “Did Lotor’s daddy spank you a few times? Did he take away your toys?! Hmph! Don’t expect my to sympathize with you. Growing up with a prince…”

“You can’t begin to imagine the horrors of having Zarkon as a father figure! We weren’t better off than slaves…we WERE slaves. Slaves to his abuse, and twisted desires!” Allura felt close to crying, but she refused to let the tears fall, not wanting to give Garret the satisfaction of seeing them. “Whatever the Drules did to you, I LIVED it too!”

Her shout disturbed the forest, a frightened flock of birds taking flight from the trees. The others had paused to stop and stare at them, a variety of expressions on their faces.

Garret’s lip was curling, the sneer making his face ugly. “No…no you did not. You didn’t even know who you really were until recently….”

“That doesn’t change what happened!” Allura pointed out, voice no less calm now that she had screamed.

“Garret!” Alfor’s voice was full of commanding authority. “Leave my daughter alone. There will be plenty of time to compare wounds elsewhere.”

“Fine.” Garret hissed, and was abruptly turning, stalking away from Allura and the others. She was left shaking, blinking angrily to keep her tears at bay. She nearly jumped when a hand landed on her arm, Diana trying to offer comfort to her.

“Is that what you had to go through?” Allura asked weakly. “Such hatred from others?”

“Yes. The people of Arus had much resentment towards your father and me. Some still do…” Diana sighed. “We can only try to make amends…”

“They’ve forgiven us for much.” Added Alfor.

“Maybe it’s too soon for them to see me. I am merely a symbol of that which took away their freedom.” Allura said sadly. It left her wondering if she could ever live on Arus, or would the hatred and animosity of the people be too much for her to bear.

“It will take time for wounds to completely heal.” Said Alfor. Allura looked away from him, and stepped in the direction Garret was traveling. She heard a sigh from behind her, Alfor seeming saddened. But other than that silence, the rest of her party quite adept at traveling silently in comparison to Allura.

They would continue to walk on for nearly forty-five minutes, their silence only broken up by the sounds of the forest. Animals rustling through the greenery, and birds calling to each other. Eventually, other sounds became apparent, Allura hearing the very low murmur of a crowd of people. She at first assumed it was other rebels, but Layel told her otherwise.

“We are almost to one of the slave camps.” He said. “You must be prepared to not overtly react to anything you see or hear. Or else it would draw suspicion to us.”

“Right…” Allura said, trying not to shiver. She didn’t know what kind of sights she would see, Allura praying the Drule would not be doing anything too cruel to the slaves gathered there.

“What is it Garret?” Alfor had noticed the frown on the angry man’s face, her father pausing beside the young rebel.

“I’m not sure…there hasn’t been any markings from any of our people that went on ahead.” Garret paused, a hand on his hip, hovering near the butt of his blaster. “That in and of itself is suspicious…”

“Do we still go on to the camp?” Diana wanted to know.

“Wait here…I need to check on some things…” Garret decided. Allura didn’t have any complaints about that, gratefully sinking down to sit on the forest floor. Layel stood besides her, his body tense, his blaster rifle in hand. He kept scanning the surroundings anxiously, looking nervous.

“It’s too noisy.” Layel announced with a frown a few minutes later. “Makes it too hard to hear if anyone is sneaking up on us.”

“Do you think they could be?” Allura asked, not sure if she should be worried.

“Anything is possible…” Layel muttered in answer.

“Oh dear…” Diana sighed, looking put out at the thought. “This is nerve inducing, all this waiting and wondering.”

“But if it keeps us safe…” Alfor murmured, earning a nod from Diana.

“Yes….we can’t afford to be caught. Not after we’ve come so far.”

“We won’t be.” Assured Alfor, though he sounded doubtful of that.

“What’s taking Garret so long?” Layel wanted to know, and Allura could only shrug in answer. “The camp’s not that far away. it should be just a quick matter of scouting, then coming back here….” He actually began to pace, muttering things under his breath. “I don’t like this….not one bit…”

“Calm down Layel…” Advised Alfor. “Panicking won’t solve anything.”

“I’m not panicking!” Layel snapped. “No…damn…We should have brought more guards. I want to go check on Garret, but I don’t dare leave you here alone…”

“I can protect my family.” Alfor said, cloak sweeping back enough to reveal the laser blaster on his hip. “If you think Garret needs assistance…go.”

“But…” Layel shook his head. “I can’t risk it. Garret would kill me if I left you two unprotected.”

Allura was looking back and forth between the two men, when she heard the rattle of the bushes behind them. Layel was already turning, rifle blaster ready to open fire. Garret appeared, and Layel swore, curses becoming more vicious as a Drule emerged behind the rebel. A blaster’s point was pressed into Garret’s back, the young man’s right eye seemed to be bruised.

“Shoot him!” Garret snarled, but Layel and Alfor were hesitating.

“Don’t shoot!” smirked the Drule. “We’ve got you all but surrounded!”

More rustles from the bushes, more than a dozen Drules appearing around them, weapons ready. Allura didn’t know what to do, hands clasping together as she tried not to gasp. Diana stepped closer to her, grabbing hold of her right arm, clinging to her with a violent shivering.

“No!” whispered Diana, frightened.

“Surrender peacefully, and you won’t get killed.” Advised the Drule who was forcing Garret to step towards Allura’s group.

“I’d rather die than surrender to the likes of you, Drule pig!” hissed Garret. That earned him a brutal blow to the head, the Drule slamming his blaster rifle against Garret’s temple. Garret cried out in pain, and slumped down to his knees, Diana screaming out his name.

“Garret!”

“It can be easily arranged, rebel scum!” promised the Drule, smirk growing wider. “Now…Arrest them all!”

Diana seemed poised to run, Allura turning to clutch at her body, preventing her from moving and getting shot. “Mother!”

“Be brave daughter, Diana.” Alfor advised, holding up his arms to show he was harmless. The Drule gathered around them, pulling the weapon out of Alfor’s hip holster, and fighting with Layel to make the man drop his own blaster rifle. Layel would not give up easily, earning several blows to the face and stomach for his defiance. Allura winced at each hit landed, and her mother whimpered as though she was suffering Layel’s pain personally.

It felt like an eternity passed before they were all restrained in hand cuffs, though in truth only minutes would go by. Diana had screamed like a wild woman when they tore Allura from her arms, Allura’s hood falling back to reveal her face and her hair. The Drules did not react to her appearance, just ushering them towards the slave camp. It was there that they would learn a trap had been set, Drules waiting to ambush any rebels that came near the camp.

It would turn out similar ambushes had been planned at all the slave camps around the forest, the Drules forcing the Arusians to make plenty of noise to confuse and hide the sound of the Drules sneaking up on the rebels. There was few casualties resulting from this ambush, rebels being herded up and loaded onto a waiting transport. Allura was roughly forced into one that was nearly packed to full capacity, the people there looking angry and determined, but not defeated.

Not until Alfor entered behind her, gasps of recognition going through them as they recognized one of their leaders. “Alfor! No! No! How can this be?” Similar cries were being whispered through out the transport, the people horrified and confused. Her father conducted himself with dignity, giving a brave look to his people.

“It’s all right. We will get through this somehow.”

But even those words did not comfort them, the people moaning and shaking their heads no, wondering how they would survive being caught. “They’ll execute us for sure!” One cried out, as the doors to the loaded transport were slammed shut. They were left in darkness, with only their cries and moans to comfort them.


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