A loud whistle of sound hissed through the sky, being joined by several more before the first ended in an explosion. Color burst into the night black sky of Arus, shimmering shades of blue and purple lighting up the darkness. Other colors exploded near by, the fireworks making a dazzling display that had the people watching the sky cheering.
Allura held back a faint smile as she watched the fireworks display, listening to the voices of her people. The Arusians were not being as vocal as they could be, as though fearing that at any moment this would end, proving nothing more than a fanciful dream. Allura knew it would take time for her people to accept what had happened, but at least they weren’t so reserved as to not celebrate their good fortune.
She caught sight of a few former slaves, and had to correct herself. Not all the Arusians were celebrating, the ones who had existed on Arus as mere slaves still cowed into fearing such behavior. They eyed the former rebels with disapproving looks, but kept to themselves, quiet and fearful, surely waiting for the Drules to descend upon the revelers.
They probably wouldn’t have even been out among the ones celebrating if not for the lure of a good meal, banquet tables set up, overflowing with food and drink. It was a sign of King Lotor’s generosity, the Drule gifting them with enough food to make even the hungriest of slaves bloated from the feast. Allura actually worried that some of the former slaves would make themselves sick, having noted how greedily they partook of the meal.
The former rebels were nowhere near as hungry as the former slaves were, they ate more sedately. There was no alcohol to be found at this celebration, the Drules weren’t quite trusting enough of the freed Arusians behavior, especially if they were to become inebriated from their drink. Allura thought it a wise decision, the girl knowing that some, like Garret, were still angry and hostile towards the Drule.
It would take time, months if not years for the animosity to be put aside, but Allura had high hopes that the time would come where both races could exist side by side. They just had to have patience and understanding, and she hoped that one day a celebration like this would be held where both races could attend.
As it were, the Drule were absent from this party, left to their ships and mysterious tasks that she hoped had to do with bettering Arus. It was two days since Lotor and her father had reached an agreement, the stunning news being broadcast all over Arus. Many of the towns far away from Rugasta were still in a state of unbelieving, she knew there was hardly any celebrating going on, the rebels in those kingdoms remaining hidden until they could get confirmation from their leaders.
But here in Rugasta, and the towns that bordered the forest that had hid the rebel’s camp, they believed. What’s more, they celebrated, reveling in the news. Allura could look back fondly on the moment when Alfor and Lotor exited the Drule warship, followed by their people. The captured rebels had feared the worse, and not gotten it, Alfor announcing they had finally attained what they had strove for all along.
Freedom! Even more shocking was the moment when Lotor ordered his men to free the captured rebels from their bindings, the Drule hesitant but obeying their King. The rebels had been too stunned, too wary to do more than talk, the Drule conscious of them, their hands ready to wield weapons should a riot break out.
But there had been no riot, the rebels almost quiet as they listened to Alfor read off the terms of the treaty. Some thought it a trick, some still did, waiting for the trap to be sprung. The Drule hardly reacted in the expected manner, instead getting to work on rebuilding the towns. Already there was rickety frames of houses put up, the buildings needing a lot more work before they would become livable.
Lotor had opened the ship’s kitchen’s, ready to feed the hungry of Arus as they waited for more supplies to come in from Doom and the many planets in it’s empire. Alfor was working with the other leaders of the former rebellion, working to appoint people to positions of trust within the new government of Arus. There was a matter of setting up trust funds for the Arusians, Alfor fearing his people would foolishly spend all their money right away.
There was a lot of work to be done, and not just with rebuilding. The people themselves needed to regain their sense of identity, their sense of joy. Allura knew it would take more than a party and fireworks to do so, many of the former slaves broken down to the most basic of emotions. She could tell by the broken look in some of their eyes that they felt like they were less than people.
It saddened Allura, the girl not knowing how to help them recover their sense of worth. But she refused to be upset on this night, the girl studying the fireworks in the sky. She wondered how far away they could be seen, and hoped the other towns that could see them knew what they meant.
She knew that tomorrow, after everyone had slept off the late night celebration, several of the rebel leaders would began traveling to other kingdoms. They would take with them guards, men and women who had once been part of the rebellion. The point of this journey was to deliver the news personally to the other kingdoms, to let the people know that yes Arus was now free, a valued member of the Drule Empire rather than an enslaved planet.
Her father, Alfor would remain behind in Rugasta, mainly to oversee things here. The majority of the rebellion was in this town, and both Lotor and Alfor agreed that the people would feel reassured to see their leader in the midst of things. Of course Alfor no longer held any real position of power, having agreed to step down from all aspects of governing.
It was part of the agreement to keep him out of prison, for Lotor had never been able to get her father to admit to just who the rebels were that had killed Drule soldiers. She could tell Lotor was reluctant to jail her father, and yet knew the King had to do something about those deaths. There was several other key names involved with leading the rebellion, and Lotor planned to put them all under house arrest once they returned from their news delivering missions.
Allura worried for Lotor, knowing his people would hardly be satisfied with that. She judged them based on the sights she had seen at the Drule high court, Allura sure that if they had their way, a violent and messy end would have been given to the rebels. She shuddered, thinking yet again how grateful she was that Lotor shared very little in common traits with his father.
She was glad Zarkon was dead, Allura understanding that peace on Arus would not have been obtained had it been left up to the former king of the Drule. There was a thousand what ifs that would not have happened, Allura’s eyes seeking out her parent’s figures in the town square. She smiled to see them embracing, Diana wrapped up in Alfor’s arms. They were both watching the sky, and she could see them lit up with the colors of the fireworks.
Diana was smiling, lips moving as she said something that made Alfor laugh. Allura was happy to see them look so relaxed and joyful, even as a twinge of envy filled her. She wished she had a relationship like theirs, one that was based on real love.
And not just love for each other, but for her too. It still left her amazed, even with all her parent had done for her, sacrificed in the name of that love. She felt like a stranger to them, having not remembered the first five years of her life. She could understand Adaline’s love, because they had been present in each other’s life. But love from a far? That she did not entirely understand.
It left Allura wondering if she would have been as kind and gracious as Diana in that position, a child taken away, years passing without knowing what became of that child. And then to be reunited with the child grown, having it’s own thoughts and opinions, molded by another’s influence. Let alone that influence being that of one’s enemy! It was a wonder Diana wasn’t disappointed with Allura, the girl wondering just how much of a Drule outlook she had on life.
And yet that hadn’t been the only thing to worry about, Allura approaching her parents nervously to break the news about her profession. They had been stunned, Alfor’s eyes showing anger before he slipped into that blank mask of calm. Diana had grown teary eyed, seeming heart broken at the news. Allura had feared the worst, and not gotten it, Diana pulling her into a hug.
As her mother wept, assuring Allura that everything would be all right, Alfor had reached out to touch her shoulder. A glance up at him had her father telling her he didn’t hold it against her. That given the circumstances, he had expected worse to be done to her on Doom.
Her parents weren’t exactly grateful to Madame Elianza, but they were relieved to hear Allura had a somewhat normal life during her teenage years on planet Ranxhi. They actually wanted to meet with Madame Elianza, though Allura had her doubts on that ever happening. The Arusians were permanently grounded on Arus, and she doubted Elianza would want to travel out to a planet that was currently little more than a charity case of the Drule Empire.
Still she felt grateful to just about everyone involved in her life and her upbringing, Allura happy with who she was, and her parents acceptance of all of her. They didn’t want to dwell on the less savory aspects of her life, and she understood they would not be telling the others about her life as a courtesan. There was enough damage to her reputation just from having lived among the Drules, the people mistrustful of Allura and her intentions.
Just thinking of that mistrust had her frowning, Allura wondering if she could ever prove herself worthy to the Arusians. A glance to her right caught sight of Garret, the young man seeming to be aware of her look. He turned in her direction and scowled, a hateful look in his eyes that had her turning away in a hurry. Allura had a feeling she and Garret would never be friends, they might never even be able to be in the same room without hostile words and looks exchanged.
Her back to him, she spied a child sneaking towards one of the banquet tables. She could tell by his pointed ears, and pale purple skin that it was one of the half breeds so despised by the Arusians.
She was already hurrying towards the table, when Gertrude noticed the child, and began yelling at him. “Stay away you filthy brat!” The woman shouted, hands clenching into fists. “This food is not for you!”
“Gertude!” Allura admonished her with a loud shout of her name. The woman flinched, but did not back down, turning challenging eyes to Allura. “This food is for everyone.” She reminded the woman, and reached for a plate.
“This brat is a product of rape.” Getrude told her. “As unwanted by his father as his mother. Just look at his face. He’ll bring nothing but bad memories to all who see him!”
“He can’t help how he was conceived.” Allura retorted, having laden the plate with meat and steamed vegetables. “The child shouldn’t be punished for the father’s crimes…or his mothers.”
“It’s mother’s?!” Gertrude made a scoffing sound.
“Yes….HIS mother, for abandoning a child to the world.” Allura knelt down, trying to encourage the boy closer. She could see the look of yearning in his eyes, the boy staring at the plate of food, practically salivating. “No one should be that heartless, that cruel…”
“You are deluded.” Gertrude let out a haughty sniff, cruel words taunting out before she stalked away. “Maybe you can tolerate such beasts after having lived so long among them, but I and any good lady cannot!”
Wincing, Allura did not bother to shout out a reply to the angered woman. Instead she kept on concentrating on the child, extending her arm out towards him. The child crept closer, eyes darting upwards nervously. She caught sight of amber eyes, the child mistrustful of her intentions. “Go on…” She said softly, urging him to reach for the plate. “Take it, it’s yours.”
The child continued to stare at her, and then he moved, almost too fast for her to register what was happening. The plate was snatched out of her hand’s grip, Allura hearing a small snarl as the child greedily bit into a hunk of meat. He glared defiantly at her as he chewed, Allura wearing a bemused expression. The boy cradled the dish to him, and then was backing away, Allura not daring to move.
Once he felt he was safely out of her reach, he turned, fleeing towards another part of the town. She sighed softly, and then nearly jumped at the sound of a voice behind her. “If you feed one, others will come.”
“Hello Coran.” Allura turned towards him, the older man putting food on a plate for himself.
“It’s true you know.” He continued, expression not betraying what he felt about her act of kindness. “They’re like vultures circling prey. He’ll be back, and I won’t be surprised if he’s not alone.”
“I hope he does come back with friends.” She told him. “I’ll feed any that is hungry.”
“Admirable trait that. You sound much like your mother.” He told her, and she grew happy to hear she bore a resemblance to Diana’s behavior. “Of course you won’t be winning any points with Gertrude if you persist in this manner.”
“I’m not doing it to score favor with anyone!” Allura protested, eyes flashing angrily.
“Of course not.” Coran said, handing her the plate. She took it from him, surprised. “Just be careful Allura. Those children are wild….they will need a lot of love and support before they can become productive members of society.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.” She murmured, and he nodded to her. He took a pink fruit, and with a whispered good bye, moved away from her. She stood there watching after him, a thoughtful expression on her face when she became aware of someone tugging on her skirt. She turned, and had to look downwards, spying a little girl looking up hopeful at her.
This child had silver eyes, with the tell tale black slits of a Drule. Her pretty powder blue skin reminded Allura of Lotor’s, the child hair a shocking shade of pink. The girls’ mouth opened and closed, but ultimately she did not speak, merely pointing up at the plate Allura held.
Smiling kindly, Allura handed it to the child, the little girl seeming to struggle with the weight of it. But she met Allura’s gaze, and nodded, the barest hint of a smile before running off with her prize.
“They’re going to make themselves sick.” She heard Doctor Gorma say, the man tsking at her. “Eating all that at once on an empty stomach.” Allura said nothing to that, knowing as long as the children continued to run off, she could not control their intake of food.
Doctor Gorma was still speaking, and she realized he had a female companion standing next to him. She didn’t pay attention to their conversation, not until it grew quiet, startling so. It wasn’t just the lack of Gorma’s voice that alerted her to something going on, but the absence of laughter and conversation all around her. Only the fireworks continued to whistle and explode, adding noise to an other wise silent town square.
She began to move, turning first to look at Gorma and his companion. They were staring at something to the North, and Allura followed their gaze. She reacted with a shocked gasp, spying Lotor standing at the northern entrance of the square, half a dozen Drule guards with him. The guards looked tense, poised to start firing should anything go wrong. But Lotor was confidant, meeting her eyes and offering her a smile.
She returned it, though she was nervous, and murmuring excuse me to the people at the table, she moved to meet Lotor before he traveled any deeper into the town square. “What are you doing here?” She meant it as a question, but it came out an accusation, Allura trying not to flush guiltily.
“I wanted to see how things were going.” He said, and some part of her felt disappointed at his answer. Could he have not come to see her instead?
“Things are going fine.” She told him, gesturing with her arm at the people spread throughout the square. “As fine as can be expected at any rate. They are very
appreciative of the food.” She allowed a small smile to cross her lips, Allura continuing. “Even the ones who don’t believe in Arus’ freedom are eating!”
“So I see.” Lotor said, looking past her at the people who were standing uncertainly now. “My presence upsets them…”
“Maybe just a little…” Allura agreed.
“Then I won’t stay long…” Lotor replied, and she felt disappointed to hear him say that. But she didn’t dare beg him to do otherwise, knowing the Arusians wouldn’t be able to relax so long as the Drules were present. “Will you walk me back to my ship?”
“Al…all right!” She said it a little too eagerly, surprised but pleased by his request. He grinned at her, Lotor offering her his arm which she took gratefully. The Drule soldiers moved to take up guard of their rear, and together they began the stroll back through to the town’s entrance.
“I’m beginning to get the first of the complaints from the nobles of my court.” Lotor said, tone conversational.
“Oh?” Allura turned worried. “Will there be much fall out from doing this?”
“Plenty.” Lotor told her, earning a frown from Allura. “I won’t be popular for a long time to come…”
She knew popularity was important, to be otherwise was to invite the noble’s dissatisfaction and unease. Angry or upset nobles could turn murderous, seeking to end Lotor’s reign before he did anything else the court would find unsettling. “I’m sorry….”
“Don’t apologize.” Lotor told her, and she shook her head.
“It’s my fault you’re in this position.”
“Nonsense.” Lotor retorted. “I was the one who made the decisions to do this. I will bear the blame and all that entails.” She still felt guilty, knowing he probably would have never considered freeing Arus if not for her. “I’ll just have to do something to make it up to them.”
“Like what?” Allura wanted to know, and the serious look he flashed her had her instinctively shivering.
“Like sealing the deal with Demos.” He said with a sigh. “One way or another.”
“You don’t mean to…marry that princess of theirs, do you?” She asked, trying to keep from looking horror stricken at the thought. Inwardly she begged him to say no, turning disappointed when he hesitated.
“I might have to.” Lotor said at last. “It may come down to either marrying into their family, or destroying them completely.”
“I…I see.” She was pleased with how calm she sounded, though inwardly she was screaming a thousand nos at him. “Well…I suppose you won’t need me around then…”
“Allura?” A puzzled saying of her name, those gold eyes turning concerned when she pulled away from him.
“I’d just get in your way.” She continued, acting like it wasn’t hurting her to say these things. “And I’m sure your new bride wouldn’t appreciate having a friend, even one as dear to you as I am, around.”
“Allura, it wouldn’t’ matter what Corral would think…” Lotor began, but she was shaking her head no.
“But it should matter! She’d be your wife!” She exclaimed, fighting to be brave.
“But I’d always make room for you in my life…” He protested.
“That’s sweet of you. But then it leaves it up to me to do what is best.” She chewed on her lips uncertainly, searching for her courage. “Lotor…your highness….I’ve decided on something.”
“Decided on what?!” He demanded, eyes upset.
“I’m going to stay on Arus.” She was pleased her voice didn’t waver, Allura looking him in the eyes. “It’s where I belong. My parents are here, my people. I deserve the chance to get to know them.”
He hesitated so long she thought he wasn’t going to answer, Allura waiting, desperate for him to tell her otherwise. “You’re right.” He said at last, and somehow she managed to keep the hurt and disappointment off her face. “You do deserve that chance. Doom…my family…has taken so much from you. It’s time we leave you alone so that you can be happy, truly happy.”
Then why was she feeling like crying at his words? “It’s all I want for you.” Allura said, then clarified. “For you to be happy.”
“It seems we both want what’s best for each other.” Lotor smiled but it didn’t chase away the pain in his eyes. Allura felt her own eyes were mirrors of his pain, the girl wondering why doing what was best hurt so much.
She was left tongue tied and despondent, unsure of what to say to him. It was fine, Lotor did the talking for her. “I’ll be leaving for Doom just as soon as those supplies arrive.”
“So soon?” Her voice was dull, Allura turning her gaze downwards to avoid Lotor’s nod.
“Yes. I think the sooner the better. I can’t afford to spend any more time away from my seat of power…I have to settle the noble’s upset, and return to ruling.”
“Yes, you’re right.” Allura sighed then. “You have to get control of your kingdom before it slips away.”
“Heh….the nobles will have a fight on their hands if they think to wrest control from me!” Lotor promised, almost looking revived at the thought. She smiled weakly at him, shifting from foot to foot. “You better get back to the celebration.” Lotor advised. “It will be the last moment of fun before the hard work begins.”
Again she nodded, and the Drule guards were already opening a path past them for her to travel. “Good night Lotor.”
“Sweet dreams Allura. I’ll see you in the morning.”
“Right…” Without a backwards glance at him, she was hurrying past the guards, fighting not to give in to her upset. Every step away from him had her hurting, Allura feeling how wrong it was to just leave like this. But she didn’t turn back, knowing she had done enough to jeopardize Lotor’s rule. If the princess Corral was the key to him living a long and safe life, then she would gladly let him go to that fate. Allura just wished it didn’t hurt so much to give him up.