Chapter 1: Gyrgan
Zarkon wasn't sure he wanted to do this.
It was a traditional gesture, he knew, to introduce a newborn child to family and trusted allies. Upon which such individuals were expected to bestow gifts upon the young one as a sign of good will. Such a common practice it was, that to NOT do so without good reason was considered bad luck.
However, he was now tempted to welcome the taboo, if it meant not having to deal with the undoubtably embarrassing treatment he’d receive from his allies. They had teased him relentlessly back when he was still courting Honerva. Even after their wedding they still teased him about being a doting husband.
The only one who gave him even a moment of respite was Alfor. Though Zarkon was sure that was only because he had his own wife and child. For the other three, the idea of the fierce warrior king Zarkon being a father and husband was apparently a hilariously novel idea.
Frankly he couldn't see the humor.
There was also the small matter that neither he, nor Honerva, had never actually attempted interstellar travel with a baby before. Zarkon knew that people did take infant on journeys. He just didn’t know entirely why.
For the emperor, space travel was a matter of pure business, politics, or war. Children had no place in all three of those things. Honerva, however, soothed his worried and ensured him that it wasn't really that big of deal. Alteans took their young into space as newborns and trained them to be pilots, explorers, and astrologers.
“So” she had explained. “There isn’t anything to worry about.”
Zarkon had snorted over the suggestion that he’d worried. He was just being considerate of the ship's crew. It had nothing at all to do with Lotor.
Nothing at all.
Rygnarath was a dry desert planet that was nonetheless one of the most active trading powers in the quadrant. The uneducated would have thought that such a place would have had limited knowledge of bartering. However, Gyragan’s people were a hardy and personable people with a great knowledge of spices, furs, and fabrics.
They gave the unilu a run for their money when it came to the treasure they traded, that was for sure. Though Zarkon tended to think more highly of Rygnarath. Mainly because they weren’t pirate, but also because Rygnarath’s cuisine was something else to behold.
It was definitely a planet that reflected well on his friend Gyrgan. He was a large boisterous creature that was Zarkon’s near equal in height and strength. A fact that belied his very gentle nature.
Hency why the site of the man oohing and aahing over an infant didn’t surprise Zarkon in the least.
“Aww, he’s so tiny!” Gyrgan’s voice could barely contain his excitement.
“He is not that tiny.”Zarkon grumbled under his breath. A little too accustomed to other’s making the same remark with an entirely different meaning.
“Ah, don’t take it like that Zarkon.” Gyrgan waggled his finger in front of an uncomfortable Lotor’s face. “I bet he’ll be bigger than me one day. Won’t you little guy?”
Lotor watched the moving finger warily as he moved closer to his mother.
“C’mon,” Gyrgan cooed encouragingly. “Go on, you can take it.”
“I would not do that if I were you.” Honerva warned.
“What?” The larger man laughed as he poked the childs cheek. “Why?”
Lotor narrowed his small eyes at the finger that continued to press on his pudgy cheek. One moment he was leaning back to avoid it and the next he turned and bit it. Hard.
Gyrgan gave a cry, more from surprise than pain, and pulled his fingers away effortless from the babies gummy toothless jaws.
“He BIT me!” His voice was tinged with betrayal. “He actually BIT me!”
“He does that.” Zarkon shrugged, fighting down the urge to laugh. “Really, you know, it is rather cute.”
“You have a funny idea of cute my friend.” Gyrgan whined, nursing his emotionally damaged finger.
The emperor grinned at his friends feigned distress. He could have warned Gyrgan about Lotor’s tendency to bite strangers who invaded his space, but he felt the overly friendly man needed a small reminder about boundaries and crossing them. Besides, biting was common amongst galran children so this behavior was far from unexpected as far as Zarkon was concerned.
“He’ll grow out of it eventually.” Honerva said in an attempt to soothe the larger man. Though the sardonic grin on her face gave a different impression. “He just needs to warm up to you first.”
Gyrgan gave her a mournful expression before brightening up.
“Well, I'm sure I can bring him around with what I got for him.”
Gyrgan wandered over to an assortment of luggage he hd hauled to the drop point with him and began digging through them all. (In what Zarkon could only described as a disorganized mess). Finally with a cry of success, he straightened himself and hurried back over.
“Zarkon, my old friend. In honor of the birth of your heir I present you and your family with this gift.”
With these words, Gyrgan presented a large shaggy blanket with an uncharacteristic flair that was entirely unsuited to him.
Zarkon held out his arms and allowed his friend to place the bedding into his arms.
“Ohh,” Honerva ran her fingers through the shaggy blanket. “So soft.”
Gyrgan looked pleased with himself.
“It’s made from nexo fur. Softest natural material in the quadrant. I guarantee it. It’ll keep you warm even on the coldest of ice planets.”
“I give great thanks for this gift on behalf of my son.” Zarkon spoke importantly. “It is our honor to accept it.”
Gyrgan beamed so brightly that he failed to notice the way his guests nostrils twitched.
“It really is a very kind gift.” Honerva spoke carefully. “Very… Practical.”
“Yes.” Zarkon grunted. “Very useful.”
Neither of them would admit what was occupying their minds. Or rather, their nostrils.
Zarkon wasn’t a pampered man. Certainly he was the emperor of the rather expansive galra empire, but he was also a former general and an adventurer in his own right. His taste could be a little exuberant, sure, but not anything obscene.
So complaining about minor discomforts was something Zarkon thought shameful. Not only was it impolite when one was a guest but it was also a show of a glaring weakness in character. After all, a real warrior would never allow such trite to affect them.
(Unless, of course, it was a matter of disrespect. In that case, a lack of hospitality was intolerable.)
In this case, Zarkon was struggling to keep his discomfort to himself. Gyrgan’s gift was thoughtful, and one he could easily see being useful in his son’s future. It was soft, warm, and sent a clear message of continued support on behalf of the Ryhnarathian people.
There was just one flaw.
A pungent aroma rose from the folds of the material and seemed to take up occupation in every available bit of air space in the room. Both Zarkon and Honerva could smell it. The only one in the room not affected was Lotor, who was quietly sleeping as his parents dealt with the problem.
“Perhaps we should… wash it?” Zarkon suggested lightly. “I mean, we must take proper care of it after all and we just returned from Rygnarath. So, it would be only natural to… get it settled in.”
“Yes. But do you know how to clean nexo fur? We never had anything like it on Altea.”
Zarkon was forced to admit he didn’t.
“Perhaps if we sprayed some perfume on it.” Honerva then hurriedly added. “To make it smell more like me. For Lotor.”
“But you do not wear perfume.”
“Sometimes I do.”
“Yes but only on very rare occasions.”
They both stared at the fur. Neith willing, or impolite enough, to just say it smelled.
“We should… put it away.” Zarkon finally spoke. “For sake keeping.”
“Yes.” Honerva said warming to the idea. “And I have just the place.”
“Yes, an old containment cube in my lab. It’s airtight so we won’t be able to- I mean it will be safe from the elements there. Well preserved.”
“Of course.” Zarkon said catching on. “Such a great gift should be protected. Hidden away from wear and tear. Juices and such.”
“I will have it put away immediately.”
“Yes. Yes, do that.”
With the fur blanket taken away to be contained Zarkon breathed a sigh of relief. It wasn’t, perhaps, the kindest thing to do. Despite the smell it was clear that Gyrgan and his people must have gone through a lot of trouble to obtain the fur and have it specifically treated for infant use. It was a simply kind and gentle offering that embodied nothing but good will.
Still, Zarkon comforted himself with the idea that he was saving his sons developing sense of smell. Besides, it was likely the stench was only temporary and the blanket would be easier to handle in a closed space later in the future.
With that thought Zarkon leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes. His feelings about this whole voyage already improving.
Chapter 2: Trigel
Trigel bolted upright from her unexpected nap. Her head leaving the frim makeshift pillow that was her desk, and her body stiffening upright from her once slumped form.
Tics flew by as Trigel hurried to take stock of the situation.
She had just woken up. Clearly she’d fallen asleep.
At her desk?
Papers covered the table in front of her. Some piled up in haphazard structurally unsound piles that threatened to tip over.
Right. She’d been doing paperwork. Another late night session that resulted in her falling asleep at her work.
What had woken her?
Someone cleared their throat.
Trigel’s hazy sleep deprived eyes swam into focus to see Venreer standing in the doorway with a look of clear disapproval on his face. It was a common expression on the adviser that Trigel had grown accustomed to seeing. Especially when she woke up like this.
“My Lady.” Venreer bowed.
Trigel tried not to show her embarrassment as she replied. “Good morning, Venreer.”
“ Afternoon , my lady.” He corrected.
Glancing out the nearby window to confirm that, indeed, the second sun was already in its orbit, Trigel cleared her throat.
“I-Indeed. My apologies. Good afternoon .”
Walking across the room Venreer seemingly conjured a water packet and a tube of food goo out of nowhere and placed them on a pile of trade treaties in front of Trigel.
“I have your afternoon snack, and you itinerary for the rest of the day.”
On some level, Trigel knew allowing someone of Venreer’s position to speak to her like this was unseemly, and that her many predecessors would NEVER have been seen taking such speech idly. Of course, she also couldn’t see any of them pulling late night work binges and falling asleep as she tended to do. It didn’t seem wise to press the issue.
She reached for the data pad in Venreer’s hands, but he pulled it back and pointedly nodded to the desk.
“You snack first, my lady.”
Trigel scowled, “Now that is just too much Venreer! I can easily eat as I work.”
“Yes, the drops of food one frequently finds on your documents are indicative of that.”
“That… is a minor inconvenience.”
“Regardless, my lady, I believe it best that you eat first. You only have around,” here Venreer paused to check his ticker. “Five minutes. I don’t think Emperor Zarkon and his wife would like waiting any longer than that.”
Trigel froze mid sip, and slowly turned toward Venreer the tip of the tube of goo still between her lips. A question forming on her face.
“They arrived just before I came up to you. I told them you were wrapping up some urgent busy and would be down momentarily. They’ve been waiting for ten minutes already.”
Swallowing a whole mouthful of goo, Trigel coughed harshly before downing a good portion of the water from the pouch.
Once her air canals were clear, she rasped out, “Why did you not tell me this immediately?! Is there an emergency of some kind?”
“No, Lady Trigel. By the way, here is your itinerary for today.”
Venreer offered her the data pad, which Trigel tentatively took and glanced at.
“Venreer… this is blank.”
“Yes. That is because you cleared your schedule for the whole day.”
“When did I do that?”
“I believe a month ago. You cleared this date to have an appointment with Emperor Zarkon.”
“Well, you should have reminded me.”
“I did. Half a month ago. Then a week ago. And then three days ago. Respectively.”
“Yes, well what is it about?”
“You are meeting their son.”
In that moment, several months worth of information resurfaced and Trigel found herself fully awake.
“Oh.” Trigel’s face melted into a look of discomfort. “You know I know nothing about children. Why did you not postpone?”
“I don’t know. Indefinitely?”
“I do not think that would have worked with the Emperor.” Then, for the first time a crease of worry crossed Venreer’s brow. “You do have a gift prepared don’t you? I mean, to NOT do so when they came all this way would be an insult. As good as a friend of yours as Emperor Zarkon is, I do not think we can afford to indirectly snub the newly minted heir of the greatest military power in the alliance.”
Trigel stood from her seat and thrust her chin indignantly. “Of course I have a gift prepared! It is down in the labs right now. I was hoping I could just send it off to Daibazaal with good wishes. However, it seems that won’t be happening.”
Venreer sighed in relief before continuing, much more intimately, “All tradition aside, I’m sure you do not really want to disappoint your long time allies and friends. If it helps, think of it as a casual visit with the baby attached.”
“You are right.” Trigel sighed. “As per usual.”
“Shall I announce you?”
“No need. Instead, run down to the labs and get the gift. It should be by the experimental spacial matter model. Hopefully the little ankle biter won’t mind waiting while me and his parents chat.”
“I’m giving her just five more minutes.” Zarkon growled.
“Patience,” Honerva said gently before sipping the drink the attendant had offered her. “Technically we are here early. Besides, Lotor’s asleep so it’s not as though she is missing much.”
That, Zarkon knew, may have been a blessing in disguise. Trigel wasn’t comfortable around children for the most part. He didn’t get the sense that there was any real dislike on her part, but the few times the paladins had found themselves dealing with children Trigel had usually been at the back of the party. Right next to Zarkon himself.
“She always does this.” he continued regardless. “Unless it's a life or death situation, she keeps her guests waiting until the last possible-”
“Sorry to keep you waiting.” Trigel came into the room breathless, but trying not to look flustered. “There was some last minute work that urgently needed my attention.”
“Of course.” Zarkon stared at her face. “We can see that.”
Trigel looked at him uncomprehendingly.
“There's a piece of paper stuck to the side of your face.” Honerva pointed at the offending stray piece.
“Ah, yes, thank you.” With a deft movement of the hand, Trigel snatched the paper from her cheek and stashed it behind her back, reminding herself to tell Venreer off for it later. Then, clearing her throat, she said, “How was your trip?”
“Uneventful.” Zarkon said shortly.
“Ah,” Trigel resigned herself to the fact that the Galra was going to hold a grudge over her late arrival. “That is good. I should hate to think anything had gone wrong.”
“The trip was fine.” Honerva added in. “Rather boring actually. How are things in the Dalterion Belt?”
“Oh much as usual. We have begun a new infrastructure initiative on one of the outer planets, and our experimental generators are making real progress. Outside of that, not much has happened. Except for the thing with Alfor.”
“The thing with Alfor?” Zarkon asked suddenly alert. “What thing with Alfor?”
Trigel chuckled. “It’s actually really funny. You see last month Alfor came to visit us to discuss some trade treatise. While in our system, he and Coran decided it would be a wondrous idea to go looking for Yalmors.”
“By themselves?” Honerva asked in amusement.
“Oh yes. I offered to go along, or at least send a escort but noooo, they had it all under control.”
Zarkon pinched the bridge of his nose, but when he spoke his voice was nonetheless filled with a rather tired amusement. “What kind of trouble did he get himself into this time?”
“It’s kind of complicated, but it involved this berry juice-”
A tiny high pitched whine interrupted Trigel as Honerva diverted her attention to the sleeping baby at her side.
Oh right. The baby. Zarkon abashedly reminded himself that they weren’t sitting around a table at The Fripping Bulgogian. This wasn’t a meeting between him and an old friend, but an important diplomatic meeting with a clear purpose.
Clearing his throat, Zarkon immediately shifted the conversation. “Lady Trigel, allow me to introduce you to my son; Prince Lotor.”
Trigel stared at the tiny squirming bundle in Honerva’s arms with an ambivalent expression. Eventually her mind caught up to her face and she forced a smile.
“Ah yes. How…” she paused searching for the appropriate word, “quaint?”
It wasn’t the term Zarkon would have chosen for the situation, though he acknowledged that it wasn’t entirely inaccurate when applied to his son.
In an effort to play her part and make appropriate conversation Trigel asked, “Does it- Does he , have teeth?”
“No.” Honerva replied simply.
The green paladin’s brow creased as she worked out this piece of information.
“Then how does he eat?”
“Mostly just soft foods. At least until his teeth come in.”
“I thought Galran children were born with teeth?”
“They are.” Zarkon spoke in the wearied tone of someone who had had to explain this multiple times. “Altean children are not.”
“It’s a learning experience.” Honerva explained dryly.
“Perhaps you should write a manual.” An amused smirk grew on Trigel’s lips. “How to raise your mixed species child. You’d become a household name Zarkon. All the housemates the universe over would know your name.”
With that Trigel chuckled at her own joke. Honerva gave her a smile taking the comment in stride. Only Zarkon appeared unamused.
“Would you like to hold him?” he asked sadistically.
The amusement fell from Trigel’s face and was replaced with a look apprehension. She glanced at the child in Honerva’s arms and Zarkon watched as she struggled calculate the proper social response.
“I-I mean, I don’t wish to disturb the child…”
“Nonsense.” Zarkon gave a cruel smile as he took the boy and held him out to Trigel. “He doesn’t bite.”
A look from Honerva caused Zarkon to amend himself. “Figuratively.”
Trigel’s nose crinkled in irritation but she nonetheless rose to the occasion. Reaching out, she took the baby from under the arms and held him at arm's length. Lotor stared at her passively as he chewed on his own fist.
“Yes yes, of course.” She said nervously. “What, uhm… what do I do now?”
“Just hold him in the crook of your arm.” Honerva advised mercifully. “You’ll wear your arms out holding him like that.”
Her voice darkened a bit as she glanced irritably at her husband, “Besides, if you hold him like that you may drop him.”
Trigel awkwardly readjusted the child in her arms.
“Ah, yes. Much more comfortable.” Trigel mused.
“You can hand him back if your arm gets tired.”
“Not at all. Why, I could hold this child all day.” Trigel shot a challenging stare at Zarkon.
The emperor stared back, unperturbed.
A few moments passed before Trigel spoke up again, “So… what do I do now?”
“Nothing.” Zarkon shrugged. “You just need to hold him.”
The two narrowed their eyes at one another as Honerva stood between them, looking rather annoyed.
“Do either of you want to sit down?” The wife and mother asked, thought she was fairly certain what the answer would be.
“I am quite comfortable, love.”
“As am I.”
Honerva sighed, and took a seat, clearly planning to wait this game of endurance out.
Blatantly unaware of the stand off occurring right over his head, Prince Lotor entertained himself by observing the room around him. Fist still very much in his mouth. Quickly growing bored with the dull unmoving expensively furnished sitting room, he focused his tiny eyes on a loose fold of Trigel’s collar.
Trigel’s face remained unmoved as she felt a tiny hand pull away the fold from her neck. Though her eyelid twitched when she felt the fabric dampen in the Prince’s mouth. Zarkon couldn’t help but smile.
It was, perhaps, a touch immature to enjoy the discomfort of his ally at the hands of his only child. However, Zarkon had been on the receiving end of Trigel’s odd sense of humor one time too many. The way he saw it, having to put up with his a small babe was the least Trigel could endure in punishment. Though being a strong willed warrior herself, she wasn’t about to give in easily even as Lotor drooled on her hand.
The standoff was only slightly interrupted when Venreer arrived with a decorated box in hand. He stood just inside the door, eyebrows raised at the two rulers as they stared one another down. His eyes darted between the two, weighing his societal options, before clearing his throat and speaking up.
“I apologize for taking so long to fetch your gift my lady. I fear it was not in the same place as it was before.”
Trigel’s eyes darted to Venreer and she smiled as though she’d just been given a new advantage on the battlefield.
“Ah yes. Just in time, Venreer.”
Zarkon allowed his own gaze to break from Trigel to the box in the servants hands. The sight of the obvious gift was as much of a peace offering as anything else prompting Zarkon to show his old compatriot some mercy by removing Lotor from her arms. The now very much damp collar slipping from the child's small hands with ease.
Trigel expressed no obvious sign of relief, though her body relaxed to a marked degree. A fact that slightly, but only slightly, amused the Galran emperor.
Clearing her throat, Trigel said in a regal fashion, “Emperor Zarkon, Empress Honerva, and Prince-... uh…”
Venreer leaned over and whispered, “Lotor.”
“Lotor! Prince Lotor. It is my honor to present to you this gift.”
With a practiced flair, Venreer moved forward and opened the box with a bow. Taking the cue, Zarkon reached in and removed the object.
He stared at the thing in his hand.
It was an… object? He couldn’t be sure. It was of such an odd shape, an amalgamation of geometric shapes and strange angles that rendered most conventional descriptors unsuitable.
“I… uh,” Zarkon struggled to find the right words to use. Naturally, he couldn’t turn down this gift. What it was.
Lotor reached out to the object held just out of her reach. Zarkon instinctively pulled it away, but the boy remained interested as he let out a sound of indignation and continued to reach for it.
Honerva appeared at his side, a tired smile on her lips as she prepared to tap into her years of Altean diplomacy training to help her husband over this newest social hurdle. But before she could even begin, she caught sight of the object and instantly stiffened in recognition. Her lips curled into an “oh” as she stared at it in interest.
Trigel and Venreer’s eyes bulged at the sight of the thing.
“I fear there’s been a-” Trigel began, but Honerva cut her off. An action uncharacteristic of her.
“Why, what a wonderful gift!”
Zarkon glanced at his wife in surprise. There was a glint in her eye that he couldn’t explain.
The color had drained from Venreer’s face as Trigel’s expression became uncomfortably impassive. Neither of them spoke.
Suddenly feeling as though he was expected to say something Zarkon said, “Uh, yes. Of course it is, darling. It’s a wonderful… I mean it’s a well made…”
He stopped in frustration.
After half a tic, Honerva piped up, “An… educational toy for babies.”
Zarkon stared at the thing. That didn’t seem right, but he could hardly offer an alternative suggestion.
“A-actually,” Trigel’s voice shook as she tried to cut in, “the truth is that-”
Cutting her off again, Honerva took Trigel’s hand and spoke in a voice dripping with sweetness.
“Thank you so much Trigel. This is an absolutely wondrous gift.” Then with a sense of finality, “ Friend .”
Trigel’s eyes went to Zarkon pleadingly but all he could do was stare back numbly trying to hide his own confusion.
Her eyes closed in surrender.
“Of course, I am pleased you like it.”
“What was that about?”
Honerva didn’t look up from her screen. “What was what about?”
“Pray do not be coy, love. I am serious.”
She still did not look up, though her shoulders deflated.
“It’s not my fault.” her voice was almost pouty, “She should have been more careful.”
“Careful?” Zarkon asked rather alarmed, “Careful about what?”
“The model.” She responded simply. “How she could mix up a spacial matter model with a child's toy is beyond me.”
“It is a model for how space could potentially bend and distort under a certain set of controlled circumstances.” She patiently explained. “It’s used to test how matter will respond to outside forces during space travel. The Dalterion's must have been working on a new model to better predict outside influences of space ships.”
“Is it… dangerous?”
“No. At least… I mean not usually . By the way could you fetch me the model? I’d to test it out before we make it to Nalquod.”
Zarkon didn’t respond.
Honerva looked up to see him giving her a rather appealing look.
“Uhm… about that dear. See I thought… I mean you did say…” He stopped awkwardly.
“Zarkon, where is the model?”
She followed his gaze to the corner of the room where it settled on-
“You gave it to the baby?”
“In my defense, I was functioning under the assumption it was a toy.” Zarkon paused before looking mournfully to his wife.
“Don’t worry about it.” Honerva soothed her husband before striding across the room. “I’ll just take it back.”
Lotor sat in the corner of the room, carefully placed so that a pillow supported him as he sat idly chewing and fiddling with the model Trigel had given them.
Leaning down, Honerva smiled as she reached for the model. “Lotor, mother needs that for a moment.”
She took the item and tried to pull it away.
Only for Lotor’s tiny hands to hold firm.
Honerva hesitated for a moment before pulling back a little stronger than before. Lotor gave a cry of distress and held even firmer.
“Now… darling… I can get you a new toy to play with. So just give… it…. to… mama!” She pulled back as hard as she dared against the child, but her son proved to have a surprisingly strong grip for one his size.
Lotor gave her a tiny pout of indignation that seemed to say, This is mine, impudent cur! Get your own!
She growled in frustration before muttering under your breath, “You must get this from your father.”
“What was that?”
“Nothing darling.” She said hurriedly as she tried one last time to pull the model away. “Zarkon, go get me some pliers.”
“Love, isn’t that a little-”
“Zarkon, please. I’m a mother. I know what I’m doing.”
While she was distracted Lotor pulled the model from Honerva’s grasp before promptly using it to bonk his mother on her head.
“Hey!” Zarkon barked in a moment of instinctual anger.
Lotor’s eyes widened at his father’s shout and dropped the model. The child sat in shock before his face scrunched up and letting out a loud heart wrenching wail. Tears rolled down his face in a ceaseless stream.
Honerva and Zarkon stood frozen before Honerva picked up the infant and began to gently soothe him.
“There there, don’t cry. Papa didn’t mean to scare you.”
Zarkon stood uselessly at her side, rubbing the back of his neck in embarrassment while making small apologetic comments.
Spotting the model on the floor, Honerva sighed and picked it up giving it back to the child in her arms. It took a few moments, but the prince eventually calmed and resumed his activity of teething on the strangely shaped toy. Both mother and father sighed in relief.
“I suppose I’ll have to wait to toy with that model. At least until he falls asleep.”
Placing his hand around his wife’s shoulder, Zarkon pulled both her and their son closer.
Chapter 3: Blaytz
Zarkon had not stepped foot on Nalquod in decaphoebs. This avoidance wasn’t out of a sense of dislike. It just felt awkward.
The Galra and the Merpeople had been at war for hundreds of decaphoebs before the alliance was tentatively formed. While relations between the two planets had greatly improved with the assistance of the other three major members of their treatise, there remained bitter feelings on both sides. Zarkon was ashamed to admit that these feelings were not unjustified.
His people’s long history of conquest and war was a confusing mess of invasions, crossed borders, and the occasional blood fuel. Only the rare Galran scholar possessed the expertise to sort through it all and cobble together a proper history. In regards to the war with Nalquod, the scholars were quite clear that t had been Daibazaal’s Emperor Grepo who’d invaded first.
With this in mind, Zarkon feared that his visit to Nalquod might not be unanimously well received. It didn’t help that the last time he’d visited the planet had been as an invader. A clear enemy and threat.
Gyrgan and Trigel’s worlds were all too familiar. Their worlds had been allies with Daibazaal since before Zarkon took the throne. Altea, as the planet spearheading the alliance, had also become a place of great familiarity to the emperor.
Nalquod, by comparison, carried memories of war and battle. A fact that set Zarkon’s instincts on edge against his will. It didn’t help that there were… cultural differences.
“I assure you, sire,” the Nalquodian diplomat couldn’t hide his exasperation, “it is entirely safe for children. In fact, they tend to enjoy it.”
He held up a curled shell, as thought offering it for inspection. Supposedly, the contraption created a special bubble that could process the oxygen in the surrounding water to allow any non-Mer to breath underwater. A necessary convenience for visitors since all of Nalquods major settlements were under the waves.
Normally, Zarkon would have accepted the offered convenience with only a passing bit of hesitation, but in this case…
Zarkon spoke in a calm but stern voice, “No.”
The Merman sighed and looked to Honerva for assistance. However she didn’t play up.
“I have used them myself while on Nalquod before.” She spoke slowly as though unsure of what she was saying, “but I haven’t read anything about its use on infants.”
The diplomat deflated, clearly exasperated by what was, in his view, the unwillingness of these visitors to accept an obvious solution to a simple problem. They need only set the child in the water, allow him to apply the bubble, and then they could all have been on their merry way.
It seemed the stereotype was true. Galra really were impossible when it came to their children.
Deeming it pointless to try and argue further, the Merman lowered the shell and stepped back into the water.
“Very well,” he sighed, “I shall go and fetch out procession and we will conduct the meeting… on land.”
He spoke the words as though he was suggesting they eat off the floor and dove into the waves.
Zarkon growled at the retreating figure, and allowed his grip on Honerva’s shoulder to finally relax.
“He was certainly persistent.” Honerva muttered voicing her distaste. “I would have assumed they had better manners than that.”
Words of agreement hovered on Zarkon’s lips. Something along the lines of not being able to expect discipline from the same people who’d produced Blaytz. But he managed to restrain himself.
This was supposed to be a happy occasion to celebrate both the birth of a Galran prince, as well as the long desired peace between their people. Zarkon didn’t dare lose his temper. He couldn’t afford to.
“Okay, Nemor, let’s go over this again.” Blaytz sighed, trying his best not to slam his face into the nearby rock formation, “this time with less… indignation?”
The other Merman snorted, “They are refusing to come down here. It’s completely disrespectful.”
“I thought we had all agreed that we were gonna meet them on the shore?”
Nemor made a disgusted noise.
Blaytz groaned, “Look, you don't have to go if you don’t want to, but this is the first time Zarkon’s come to Nalquod in… awhile. We want this to go well. So as long as we don’t do anything to offend- Oh quiznak why are you making that expression?!”
The other Merman’s tail twitched uncomfortably under Blaytz’s gaze, “They did not respond well to the bubbling.”
“Really? But I’d have thought Honerva would be all for that.”
Nemor’s gills flared nervously, “I, uh, I-I didn’t offer it to her.”
“Oh, well Zarkon is kinda a stick in the mud. But since he’s never done this before I guess I can’t really blame him.” Blaytz laughed and patted Nemor on the shoulder.
“I didn’t offer it to him either.”
“But you said they said no.”
Nemor didn’t meet his eyes.
“You DID ask them right?”
Nemor nodded, but still didn’t reply.
“You didn’t… try and bubble the baby did you?”
The Merman’s face drained of color, “Is… is that bad?”
Blaytz’s gills filtered a deep breath of water, “If by ‘bad’ you mean that you were lucky Zarkon didn’t toss you into the water bound to a boulder, then yes, this could be very very bad.”
The paladin groaned and rubbed his temples.
Why couldn’t they get this right? Not a year or so ago, they’d had the same exact issue with Princess Allura. Alfor had been polite about the whole thing in that terrifying way of his, and they’d managed to finish the encounter in a way that made all the Merpeople involved view the whole thing a resounding success.
Only Blaytz, and a few others, had been left ramming their heads against the side of the nearest reef.
The problem wasn’t that his people were particularly thick, bad mannered, or even undisciplined as Zarkon liked to think. It was just that Merpeople were… different. A fact that Blaytz only really learned when he went into space for the very first time.
Most planets, as it turned out, weren’t mostly water. Most technologically advanced species had not developed in aquatic environments. And most space faring civilizations didn’t have most of their major settlements on their home planet under the waves.
In fact, in all these ways, Nalquod was quite unique. A fact that was both a major advantage, as well as a disadvantage.
Their strange anatomy and underwater civilization was credited with why they had managed to fight off the Galra for so long with their limited technology. Just the sheer depths of their underwater world made for an intimidating unexplored landscape for a people who were used to fighting on land. Then once the Alteans got involved, the Merpeople were given the technological advancement to go toe to toe with the Galra on the land masses of their own home planet as well as others. Once the war was over, however, Nalquods strange and unique way of life had proven to be something of a stumbling block.
Like children for example.
Mer children could swim immediately from the moment they were born, and developed extremely quickly from there. Something that greatly differed from how altean and Galran children functioned. Even how they raised their children seemed to differ.
Both Galran and Altean children were helpless for decaphoebs after their birth, requiring the constant guidance and protection of their parents. Mer children, on the other hand, could more or less navigate and communicate a mere few phoebs after being born, and looking after and educating them was largely a collective effort of a community rather than just the individual parents.
Blaytz had learned all of this and more through his adventures with Alfor and the others. It had all been such an enlightening experience, that he’d been excited to come home and share them all with his people. But when he did…
Merpeople were not unsociable by nature. Quite the opposite in fact. But when they had opened their doors to the universe for the first time, and they ended up with invaders on their step, that had rather colored their opinions on the ways of offworlders.
In a way his role as the representative of Nalquod for the whole alliance was something of a curse. He knew things about the universe now that he had never imagined thinking about before. Things about other planets, their systems of governance, and, most interestingly, all the people who made it all up.
The other Mer couldn’t quite understand the change. Being one of the few people to ever leave Nalquod had always made them view Blaytz as something of an odd fish. But ever since he’d become a paladin they had begun to view him more and more as an eccentric.
It made him think about one of those hypothetical philosophical things he’d come across on earth. Something about a bunch of humans in a cave. Now that he knew about the universe, he couldn’t go back to the old days in the shallows when the night sky was just a thick black slate with pearls stuck in it, rather than an entire system of interconnected peoples, cultures, wars, and treaties. He wasn’t sure he wanted to go back.
“He’s not… not going to… do something is he??” Nemor asked, sounding frightened. “I didn’t mean to insult them. They’re so… so sensitive.”
Blaytz was tempted to reprimand him. Another person's sensitivity was hardly an excuse for one’s own in sensitivity. He decided against it. There would be time to sit everyone down and explain just what exactly they’d all managed to do wrong later. For now there was patching up to be done.
“Go on back to the palace.” Blaytz instructed trying to sound as strict as possible, “I’ll patch things up with Zarkon and handle the gift.”
He then paused and added, “And be sure not to tell anyone about your unfortunate slip up. You’ve got a long career ahead of you in Queen Luxia’s court, and I’d hate for her to think that you were unreliable.”
It wasn’t the most truthful way to handle things. Luxia would most definitely not have appreciated him using her name to finagle things in this way, but Blaytz had to make sure Nemor didn’t go around complaining about Zarkon having an attitude. There were other Merpeople in the depths who’d be more than indignant if they thought the Galran emperor was anything but demure about being on their planet for the first time since the war.
Better to let Nemor think that wagging his tongue would risk his good standing, than let him unintentionally begin an intergalactic incident.
Thankfully the maneuver worked and the younger Merman paled. “Y-Yes sir. Thank you sir. I-I’ll be going then.”
As he started swimming away Blaytz called after him, “Be sure to send the procession up once you get there! We don’t want to keep our guests waiting.”
Nemor nodded before making a beeline into the depths. Once he was out of sight, Blaytz sighed and turned towards the surface. It wouldn’t take them long to gather everything up and start heading to the shore. At most he had maybe half an hour to make sure Zarkon wasn’t rattled, and calm him down if he was.
He had wanted this to go well, and already things were getting off to a rough start. Though he and his would be leader often disagreed, Blaytz was fond of Zarkon. He didn’t know if it was because they had fought in so many battles together, or if simply being forced into each other's general proximity had somehow endeared the emperor to him, but their relationship had gone from merely one of convenience to a companionship Blaytz was surprised to find he was happy to have.
He didn’t want all that ruined by an unintended instance of cultural miscommunication.
“He’s not holding him.” Zarkon muttered as they watched Blaytz make his way up the beach towards them.
Honerva sighed. She would need to get used to Zarkon’s little idiosyncrasies when it came to Lotor.
Really, his protectiveness was something she found endlessly endearing. Seeing him deal with Lotor with the same rare gentle softness that he normally only reserved for her filled Honerva with a warm feeling that reminded her of just why she’d fallen in love with him. The only problem was that he was so unwilling to acknowledge the fact.
Whenever she hinted as much to him, he would always suddenly become evasive or deny having any feelings of the kind. It was his pride, she was sure. To someone like Zarkon, being identified as one of those overprotective doting fathers was something to be embarrassed about.
“Oh come now. You let both Gyrgan and Trigel hold him.”
“Yes,” Zarkon hissed, “but I haven’t seen either of them drop a priceless antique vase in front of its owner. We were on the run for so long that I ended up arriving home three days late.”
Honerva paused at that before giving a nod, “Point made. But what do we do if he asks?”
“I will handle that.”
They pulled their heads apart as Blaytz arrived, breathing hard from having hurried down the beach.
“Okay,” he breathed, “what happened?”
“Your servant tried to drown my son.” Zarkon deadpanned, “Outside of that nothing.”
“First off Nemor’s NOT my servant, secondly he wasn’t actively trying to drown your son, and third,” here Blaytz gave a sigh,” thank you for not killing him.”
“I did not think it would be diplomatic.”
“And you were right. Oh so very very right.” Blaytz sighed again, rather relieved that Zarkon hadn’t taken the incident as an excuse to get into one of his moods. “I, uh, I apologize for him. To be honest, they should’ve sent someone a bit more experienced with offworlders. Unfortunately that wasn’t really MY call to make, so whoever was in charge probably just picked whatever willing young Mer seemed available at the time. So it wasn’t something that was done on purpose or anything.”
At least, that was what Blaytz hoped.
He had enough things to worry about on the diplomacy front without incompetent attempts at social sabotage.
“Well whoever IS in charge of those appointments needs to be removed in favor of someone with more sense.” Honerva said scathingly. “Your diplomacy leave a lot to be desired.”
This was harsh criticism coming from an Altean, and Blaytz couldn’t help but physically deflate at her words. It was precisely what he’d been dreading. Zarkon and Honerva were good people, but they were mercilessly critical at the same time.
Blaytz wasn’t an autocrat by birth, nor had he been trained as a soldier or any kind of politician. This made him rather inexperienced in his current career as a diplomat.
His original career had greatly prepared him for his life as the blue paladin. However, Blaytz assumed that being a former privateer wasn’t something he should advertise to Nalquods political allies. Lest they get the wrong idea about how Merpeople typically did things.
“I’ll be sure they understand that.” He managed as he prayed for the powers that be to send down some kind of divine intervention to spare him from this scrutiny.
At least one god must have heard his plea because it was at that moment that the child in Honerva’s arms chose to start getting fussy. Blaytz almost jumped at the sound. With all these worries plaguing his mind, he’d somehow managed to forget the whole point of this meeting.
He immediately welcomed the change in subject.
“And who is this?” He asked leaning towards the boy.
In response, the babe moved closer to Honerva while keeping a curious, if watchful, eye on Blaytz.
Zarkon begrudgingly allowed Blaytz to slither out of the conversation and decided the sooner they got this over and done with the better.
“It is my honor, Blaytz of Nalquod, to introduce you to my son and heir, Prince Lotor.” He spoke with a stately flourishing gesture towards his son to help somehow make the whole thing feel more official. It would have been better with an audience but as it was…
Blaytz stared at the child. Lotor stared back.
Zarkon stood by awkward as Blaytz continued to stare. Trigel and Gyrgan had been more prompt with their responses than this. As practiced leaders and diplomats they had a lot of technical and social expectations they could fall back on.
Blaytz was neither of those things. Anything he’d say in response to the sight of his son would be his honest raw first impression.
This made Zarkon more nervous than he cared to admit. He wasn’t sure he’d be able to hide his anger if Blaytz made any disparaging remarks about Lotor’s appearance. He’d heard enough of that sort of talk from well meaning officials who phrased it all in the most polite and indirect way they could muster.
It was beginning to embarrass him. Not that Zarkon dared to share that particular feeling with Honerva. He didn’t dare share it with anyone.
“He’s got blue eyes.” Blaytz observed, “And white hair.”
“Yes,” Honerva replied with a sense of interest, “to be honest it’s rather fascinating genetically speaking. I can only guess that they’re recessive Altean genes on my part. Although neither of my parents-”
“Yes, yes.” Blaytz cut her off before she could get started. Most of the mothers he’d met didn’t get quite so technical when it came to boasting about their babies. Considering that this was Honvera however, he chalked it up as being very much in character. “Just saying, he seems to have inherited his mother’s looks. Which can only mean he’ll probably end up taking after his father in personality.”
Zarkon let out a breath. Though he doubted Blaytz had meant the last comment as a compliment, it was nonetheless an encouraging thing to hear.
“Can I hold him?”
“No.” Both Honerva and Zarkon replied suddenly.
They stopped and glanced at each other. Not wanting to appear rude, Honerva immediately began listing excuses.
“He does not like strangers.”
“Well, he’ll have to get used to me eventually.”
“He drools. He will drool all over your lovely vestments.”
Blaytz glanced at the endless ocean of water from which he’d come, “I think I’ll be okay.”
“He- well, you see he… he…” Honerva floundered.
“He BITES.” Zarkon said baring his own rows of sharp teeth in a rather aggressive smile. “ Hard .”
That gave the Merman reason to pause. He watched as Lotor reached out for the necklace around his mother’s neck. His jaw moving in anticipation.
“On second thought, I’m still a bit damp from the sea. Might be best if you hang on to him for now.”
Zarkon hummed in response. It was lucky Blaytz hadn’t seen just how gummy Lotor’s mouth actually was. Or if he had, it hadn’t made the potential bite any less appealing.
“Maybe we should just move along.” Blaytz said as he looked at the shore.
The procession still hat yet to arrive. A good thing really. Their conversation had successfully calmed Zarkon’s initial indignation, but he was still far from being in a good mood.
Deciding that a bit of ceremonial bribery was in order, Blaytz reached into a satchel he’d taken with him to the shore and drew out something wrapped in some green plant material. He wanted Zarkon in a positive state of mind when the other Merpeople arrived and figured this was his best bet to get him into such a mood. If this failed, he was just going to have to pray for the best.
Due to their friendship, Queen Luxia had left the choosing and giving of the gift to Blaytz. Mostly in the hopes that his recent experience with Galran culture would assist in choosing something suitable. He had thought long and hard on exactly what a stolid Galran traditionalist like Zarkon would think of as a decent gift for a newborn baby, and had arranged things accordingly.
Now if he could just remember the words…
“Alright so, uh… Prince Lotor this is a gift to celebrate you being born and to, hopefully, ensure a long lasting alliance between our people.”
Even as he spoke he could tell by Zarkon’s expression that it wasn’t the right thing to say. However, he seemed more willing to be lax with Blaytz’s unofficial behavior today than he normally would have been.
Blaytz glanced down at the baby boy who was still staring at him intently.
If this is how he acts when you’re around , Blaytz thought suppressing a smirk, I think I might end up liking you kid.
Zarkon accepted the package with an unreadable expression.
“Thank you.” He said politely before turning his attention to the gift.
It had been the first time on this trip that one of the gifts had been wrapped. Zarkon didn’t count the chest Trigel had placed the model in given that that was more of a means of presentation. This manner of giving rather reminded Zarkon of those packages of contraband they would find on illegal trading ships rather than a ceremonial gift between peoples. He somehow doubted Blaytz saw it that way though.
The package was rather hefty despite its small size, only fitting within the palm of Zarkon’s hand. It was too small to be something as big as Gyrgan’s blanket, but shape wasn’t off enough to be something strange like Trigel’s gift (or mistaken gift as the case may be). He was feeling rather apprehensive about what might lie under the wraps of fibrous sea plant.
“Aren’t you gonna open it?” Blaytz asked.
“Ah, yes. Of course I am. I was just wondering if… we should wait for the procession?” He asked buying time.
Blaytz shrugged, “Don’t worry about it.”
Zarkon sighed in annoyance but nonetheless began unwrapping the package, preparing himself for the worst. As the last fold was pulled away something tumbled out from the material into his open hand. He stared at it in surprise.
“So?” Blaytz began trying to prevent his nervousness from creeping into his voice, “What do you think?”
Honerva stared at the thing in Zarkons hand, “Is that a knife ?!”
“Uh… yes? I mean, Gyrgan said it’s technically supposed to be a sword or something, but since it was short notice I figured it’d be easier to go with something a bit-”
“You’re giving a knife ,” Honerva said coldly, “to a baby ?!”
Blaytz shrunk under her glare. “I feel I may have made a cultural misstep somewhere along the way.”
Honerva’s misgivings faded into the background of Zarkon’s mind as he absorbed the meaning in this gesture. He hadn’t really expected any of his allies to act on any Galran gifting ceremonies. Politically it sent a clearer message to use their own planets traditions than his own.
Especially since the blade ceremony was a gifting tradition geared towards expecting parents rather than ones who’d recently given birth. Clearly something had gotten lost in translation when Blaytz had asked about it. However it was unexpectedly thoughtful given how little Zarkon himself knew about Nalquods culture. The fact that it was a legitimately well made blade only increased his appreciation. Honerva on the other hand...
“While I do appreciate the intent we are NOT giving our infant son a blade. Right dear?”
Zarkon was on the spot now. Both of them were looking at him expectantly. He’d missed most of the conversation but he could imagine that it had likely consisted of his wife expressing her forceful disapproval as Blaytz feebly defended himself. Now HE was expected to settle the issue.
“Uh, well…” Zarkon glanced down at the knife. It really wasn’t ideal to give to him now but perhaps in the future…
“It does seem to be more symbolic than literal darling.” Honerva frowned in disapproval causing Zarkon to hurry along, “that being said, we will naturally give it a place of honor somewhere prominent and in a very high, difficult to reach place, where it will remain until he is much much older. If he needs it at all.”
Honerva huffed, “Naturally, if that’s the way you wish it then I have no choice but to go along with it.”
He sighed, “Beloved-”
But it was too late. Honerva had already turned away.
“Lotor and I are going to go wait on the procession by the shore. You two can catch up.”
Zarkon’s quiet protests fell on deaf ears as his wife flounced off with their son looking back over her shoulder.
The two men watched her go helplessly.
“It… It was a long trip.” Zarkon said as a means of excuse.
Blaytz sighed as he took a seat on a nearby rock. “I screwed it up. Queen Luxia left this to me, and I screwed it up.”
Zarkon took a seat next to him.
“How did you know about the blade ceremony? I have never mentioned it.”
“I asked Gyrgan and Trigel. They’ve been allied with you for longer than I have so I figured they could help with a thing or two.” Blaytz explained. “Trigel never picked up, but Gyrgan said something about some sword giving ceremony. He was really vague about the details though.”
“Evidently.” Zarkon mused dryly. “It is supposed to be given before the child is born. As a gesture of strength and protection.”
“Oh. Sooo giving it to you now?”
“Likely would carry the same connotation as the majority of other civilization. That is… not good.”
“Yes. You are fortunate it was me and not another. I can’t guarantee you’d have kept your head.”
Blaytz peered at him with a cautionary expression.
“Then why aren’t YOU mad? I’d have thought you’d have at least been slightly miffed.”
Zarkon straightened his back and crossed his arms, “Because I know you Blaytz of Nalquod. Though you lack discipline and are, frankly, capable of great insensitivity you would not threaten a newborn with violence. Especially not through some archaic symbolic gesture. Besides,” Zarkon’s shoulders relaxed. “It was a kind gesture. And a well made blade.”
Blaytz head fins perked up. He hadn’t expected this. A disgruntled thanks or a lack of complaint was all he thought he could hope for. Not something as sincere, if a little gruff, as this.
“Thank you.” His voice dripped with appreciation. “That… actually means a lot coming from you.”
Zarkon tried to come up with a suitable reply but was interrupted by a sudden commotion from the shoreline.
“Oh that must be the-” Blaytz began but stopped as Zarkon suddenly launched himself up and shot for the shoreline in an undefinable blur, “-procession?”
He watched as the blur moved over and between the stone that made up the Nalquodian coast, only stopping when it reached where Honerva was standing and pulling her back away from the shore. Blaytz couldn’t help but give a smile at that. Stiff and uptight though he may be, he certainly could never accuse Zarkon of being an uncaring husband.
As the water a few feet out surged with movement, Blaytz casually made his way down to the shore. Becoming rather amused with the protective way Zarkon pushed his wife and child back while reaching for a sword that wasn’t actually there. The idea that swords had no place in diplomatic debate was still something of a fresh concept to his hard lined warrior instincts, and a few mental wires were probably getting crossed.
Since he was the diplomatic representative of Nalquod in this situation, Blaytz knew it was his duty to set the Emperor’s nerves at ease and make him feel welcome in the face of the dozen or so Merpeople that were about to rise from the depths. But whether it was the embarrassment he’d set on himself, his unexpectedly friendly talk with Zarkon, or the fact that he was just finding that the more traditional methods of the intergalactic representative just didn’t work for him; Blaytz wasn’t in the mood to play along.
Instead, he did what he might have done back before they were leaders tentatively trying to hold together a peace, before they were paladins, or heroes even.
Blaytz pulled a spare bit of driftwood out from between some rocks and poked Zarkon in the side of the helmet with it.
“Look alive, fearless leader.” He said as Zarkon turned to scowl at him, “You’re about to meet the queen.”
They all watched as the violent movement of the waves produced bubbles, then heads, and, finally, the torsos of Queen Luxia and her accompaniment. They stopped at the shoreline, and the guards in the front bowed in greeting, the lower halves of their bodies still under the waves.
A smart decision as far as Blaytz was concerned. Honerva and Zarkon may have been of the scientific turn of mind, but even they likely wouldn’t want to watch the complex and unappealing process of fins splitting into legs. If they intended to come ashore at all.
Luxia came forward toward the shore with only a slight pause of hesitation before she spoke, “I, Queen Luxia, welcome you to Nalquod; Emperor Zarkon, Empress Honerva, and…?”
She paused as her eyes searched for something. Eventually she glanced at Blaytz with the vaguest suggestion of a request for assistance. Blaytz tipped his head towards Honerva while making informal gestures with his arms.
Luxia blinked and then looked at Honerva. Then lowered her eyes slightly. Then she stared.
Luxia had never really seen alien children Lotor’s age. Mer-children Lotor’s age were in school by now. Blaytz had tried to explain it to the queen but she had struggled with the concept. However she rallied magnificently.
“-and the young prince.”
“It is an honor.” Zarkon said with a hand in a salute over his chest.
“You seem to be well.” Luxia commented safely. “I have not seen you since we… signed the treaty.”
“I remember. You too seem to be well.” Zarkon paused, unsure of how to continue.
“I have not had the honor to meet your wife.” Luxia said helpfully.
Honerva looked relieve to be included.
“Honerva,” she said extending her hand, “i have studied on Nalquod. It was an enlightening experience.”
Luxia took her hand, not noticing the way Honerva’s lip twitched at the feel of her clammy damp skin.
“I am happy to hear that. We do pride ourselves on our hospitality.”
Zarkon opened his mouth to say something (likely unflattering) but shut it again as Blaytz dug an elbow in his side.
“And how are you enjoying your stay?” Luxia asked…
… addressing the baby.
A long silence followed, save for the sound of Blaytz sucking in air through his gills and slapping his face.
Luxia blinked, “Is… he shy?”
“He can’t speak yet.” Zarkon said bluntly, though not unkindly.
“O-oh,” Luxia flushed in embarrassment, “I am… so sorry. I did not know.”
“It is alright.” Honerva soothed shooting her husband a disapproving look.
In response, Zarkon did his best to look sheepish.
Luxia leaned in close. Lotor moved further into his mother’s chest, as he often did with strangers, and whispered very slightly. Zarkon, in a way so slight that even he didn’t noticed, moved in and loomed. Not menacingly but in a way that reminded everyone present that he was there and at least a head taller than everyone else.
“He is very cute.” The queens said pulling back. “I apologize. I’ve never seen off world children this small.”
“Understandable.” Honerva smiled and discreetly used her free hand to un-loom her husband, at least slightly, while refraining to mention how unusual Lotor was even off world, “hopefully you’ll have more chances in the future.”
“Perhaps,” Luxia said noncommittally, “if this state of affairs continues.”
Zarkon didn’t know why he spoke. Only the vaguest feeling that if he didn’t speak, then something would slip through their fingers. Something, some chance, that would never come again.
“They will. I-... WE will ensure it.”
It wasn’t the most inspiring thing he’d ever said. He’d done much better in the face of much more dire odds. You couldn’t be bad at public speaking when you ruled over a race of warriors and had to get them all to do what YOU wanted at the drop of a helmet.
However, the effect was unexpected effective.
Luxia actually smiled at him. Not just diplomatically or politely, but sincerely. Her attendants even relaxed somewhat.
Blaytz certainly let out a held breath that he pretended not to hear.
“In that case consider this a token of my promise to do all that I can do make this last.”
Before either Zarkon or Honerva could ask what she meant, Luxia dove beneath the water. After a short while she emerged holding something in her hand.
“On behalf of myself and my people, I want to gift you this.”
“But…” Zarkon glanced at Blaytz who, judging by his expression, had no idea what was going on.
“Yes, I know.” Luxia said somewhat guiltily. “I must confess that we- that I have been making Blaytz carry the responsibility of sustaining our alliances.”
“Really?” Honerva's polite reservations gave way to honesty. “But he's not exactly trained is he? I mean there are rocks with more diplomatic sense.”
Blaytz looked offended. “I am right here!”
“I know but he DOES know a lot about the universe. More than I do. He does well, despite lacking training. He's also,” if possible Luxia looked even more guilty, “well, he's your friend isn't he?”
Zarkon stared at her not comprehending. Then it sunk in. He took in a breath.
He couldn't lose his temper. Not here. Not now. Besides, wouldn't he have taken advantage of such a thing himself?
But he hadn't. She had. She'd used Blaytz to get a foothold in broadening their relationship with Daibazaal, and it worked.
“If it's any consolation,” Blaytz whispered, “it's not really news to me. I mean I was upset when I figured it out but…” This was more important.
The words went unspoken but the meaning was there. They didn't really make Zarkon feel better. He took them to heart nonetheless.
“The fact is,” Luxia explained, “that I have been neglecting my duties as Nalquods leader. No more though.”
She offered the thing in her hand to Zarkon and Honerva.
“So consider this a gift to honor your heir, a hope for the future of our peoples, an offering of apology for my negligence, and, potentially, the start of a new friendship.”
Honerva took the thing and held it in her hand. It was some kind of shell.
“It’s a kind of undersea creature.” Luxia explained. “It creates a kind of jewel by…”
Here she paused. They didn’t really need the nitty gritty details.
“... well it creates a jewel. We have a word for it in our ancient language but you couldn’t be able to pronounce it. You need gills you see. Another people we have recently contacted have a similar life form that makes a similar jewel. They call it a um, a-” She snapped her fingers. “Oh! Pearl. They call them pearls.”
We know what pearls are. Zarkon wanted to say. But he held off.
Honerva held it up and tried to peer through the crack in the shell.
“A pearl? How do you get it out?”
“You must crack it open. But not yet. Keep it in some water until the time comes.”
“What time is that?”
Luxia paused. “On Nalquod we give them to our children and then open them when they come of age. I know that is much longer for you then for us but the pearl should still be fine.”
Honerva looked at the thing with a renewed interest.
“The color of the pearl tells us something about our children’s life and future. So when your Lotor comes of age be sure to crack it open.”
“How will we know what it means?”
“You can ask us.” Luxia gave them a shrewd smile. “I am certain we will still be on good terms then?”
“She’s good.” Honerva said after Luxia and all the other Merpeople had left. “A little rough, but impressive considering your people haven’t broadened their alliances in some time.”
“Y-yes.” Blaytz responded distractedly. He was still eyeing the very silent Zarkon. “Your not still mad are you?”
“It was very cheeky.” He huffed.
“Well… maybe a little. But that’s only cause you made a good impression on her! She knew you could handle it. To be honest I’ve been having a helluva time convincing everyone you wouldn’t fly off the handle at the minor-est provocation.”
Zarkon looked offended, “You know very well how I handle myself.”
“Yeah.” Blaytz said drying, “I do.”
“What is that supposed to mean?!”
“You DO lose your temper fairly easily dear.” Honerva added constructively. “Though of course your not nearly as violent about it as some might think.”
Zarkon looked at her feeling betrayed, “My own wife.”
Blaytz added, “Oh and your perpetually grumpy. Not to mention bossy, arrogant, lacking in volume control-”
“Enough!” Zarkon boomed indignantly. “Stop this nonsense!”
Blaytz and Honerva snorted before laughing good naturedly at their proven points. Only Lotor failed to laugh along.
“At least someone here loves me” Zarkon huffed as he took up his son into his hands.
Despite being huffy, he really was happy things seemed to have gone well. This whole ‘era of peace’ thing was still new to himself and the rest of the Galra. Their whole society had been based around warfare since before they’d become starfarers.
They weren’t warmongers . At least not what Zarkon thought of as a warmonger. Peace was certainly an idea amongst their people. It just hadn’t been considered an attainable idea.
Every time they got close something would ruin it. Someone would invade, some coup would kick up, the emperor would be assassinated, the emperor would assassinate someone else, and then they’d be back at someone’s throat. It had always gone on like that.
And it would happen again if something wasn’t done.
Once Zarkon kicked it, the empire would be up for grabs. People who enjoyed the old ways would make plans. Their alliances would fall apart, war would kick up, and Lotor and Honerva would be…
Zarkon ran his thumb over the top of Lotor’s head.
He wasn’t going to let that happen.
Chapter 4: Alfor and Melenor
“I am happy, ow, to see you are doing so, ouch, well Zarkon.” Alfor managed to get the words out in spite of Lotor’s ever curious hands yanking on his beard. “You have a very cwuriwous chwild.”
His words became distorted as the boy got a hold of the inside of his cheek.
Zarkon looked on in some concern. “I can take him if you wish.”
Alfor pulled his face free but made no effort to stop the child's exploring hands.
“Nonsense, were getting along splendidly!”
This was actually quite true. After a fact.
Lotor giggled with delight at not having his curiosity stifled for once, and indulged himself in pulling, prodding, and pinching every inch of Alfor’s face. The king nobly tolerated this assault with a gentle smile.
Lotor normally disliked strangers. If his mother were not present, he’d normally burst into tears upon being handled by anyone other than his father or one of the few servants entrusted with his care. Zarkon had dreaded the meeting when his wife had announced she wouldn't be accompanying them.
He had plead with her to stay, but Honerva had just turned up her nose and said she wanted to catch up with a few former acquaintances before taking tea with Queen Melenor. Zarkon hadn't dared to press her further, knowing she wouldn't change her mind without a fight. The small hope that introducing their child to Alfor, the one responsible for their meeting, would patch things up between them quickly vanished.
Zarkon resigned himself to the fact that Honerva would not forgive Alfor’s part in shutting down her quintessence experiments anytime soon, and had gone to introduce the two alone.
“Lotor is an interesting name.” Alfor mused. “Is it a Galra name?”
“Uhm, no.” Zarkon flushed at the memory of when they'd come up with it. “We made it up. In the end, it seemed the most fitting.”
“A unique name for a unique child. I like it. “
Alfors fingers attempted to comb down Lotors messy wisps of hair.
“He has white hair.“
“Yes, and blue eyes.”
“That is rather strange,” Alfor said offhandedly, “but also very appealing.”
He lifted the child and cooed, “You'll be a handsome young prince, won't you? Won't you?”
This refreshing take on his sons appearance prompted a smile from Zarkon. “Beyond that he seems to take mostly after his mother. I fear he shall look nothing like me.“
Alfor gave him a funny look.
“He is purple .”
“I mean besides that!” Zarkon snapped.
Alfor chuckled at having successfully gotten a rise out of him.
“I jest my friend, calm yourself. The prince is still just a baby. I am sure as he grows you'll notice all kinds of similarities.”
Zarkon sniffed with dignity but said nothing.
The king gave him a friendly smile as he settled the young prince on his lap.
There was a lot he wanted to ask Zarkon about Lotor. Alfor had never seen, or really even heard of, a half Altean half Galra child. Their people had been in conflict for so long that any mixed children born in that time would likely have been hidden away by their parents.
Now that they were at peace, there was much Alfor wanted to know about half Galra children. How they developed and grew, how common they really were within the empire, and more. However, for once, Alfor managed to hold himself back.
Zarkon would not have appreciated such inquiries, especially after his newborn child had suffered numerous complications after birth. After all children shouldn’t be treated like sample studies. Now that he held Lotor in his lap he was more sure than ever that he was right.
Besides, seeing Zarkon as a father was a novel experience in itself. Alfor had thought it novel when he’d seen the great warrior king as a blushing stumbling suitor and then an adoring husband. Now he was a doting father.
It was difficult to reconciles the harsh, sometimes violent, Zarkon he’d first met years ago to the gentle hyper focused father who watched his child with an unwavering attention.
Difficult. But not impossible.
Lotor gripped Alfor’s sleeve and decided to inspect it with his mouth.
“Curious little thing, aren’t you?” Alfor chuckled.
Zarkon sucked in a breath. “I… am sorry. He likes to put things in his mouth.”
“Well, of course.” He smiled. “That’s what children do.”
Zarkon looked uncertain. Alfor felt a need to change the topic.
“He’s a marvelous child, Zarkon. You should be very proud.”
“Y-yes, of course,” Zarkon still eyed the boy. “But you see, the problem is-”
Alfor felt something hard and gooey clamp down on his thumb and stay there. He looked down to see Lotor chewing on his hand.
“-he bites.” Zarkon sighed.
“Ah,” Alfor tried to keep his face straight even as the drool dripped down his hand. “I see.”
The bite itself didn’t really hurt. More uncomfortable than anything else. However…
“He’s… really going at it.”
“Yes,” Zarkon frowned and narrowed his eyes, “he normally only does that to me.”
There was a tint of jealousy in his voice, but Alfor didn’t notice.
“Oh? Does that mean he likes me?”
Zarkon grunted in reply.
Everything about the way Lotor acted answered the question. It wasn’t his fault if Alfor didn’t notice.
“Uhm, how do I get him to stop?”
Zarkon wordlessly reached over and picked Lotor up off Alfor’s lap, his gums slipping off the kings thumb with ease, and settled him into his own hands. Lotor whined in complaint, reaching for his last chew toy.
Alfor watched in silence before saying, “He doesn’t seem to like it.”
“He doesn’t.” Zarkon replied with no further comment.
Lotor continued to whine until he felt his father’s fingers gently caress his scalp. He then instantly quieted and leaned into the touch contently.
“That’s a nice trick.” Alfor muttered, “
Could have used that when Allura was that young.”
“What trick?” Zarkon asked.
Alfor watched as Lotor snuggled into Zarkon’s chest as thought his armored chest was a soft pillow. Zarkon continued the comforting movement of his fingers without looking down. The scene would almost be domestic if it wasn’t for the armor.
“Zarkon, did you ever imagine we’d end up here?”
The Emperor’s brow creased, “What do you mean?”
“I mean, how long have we known each other? A good few decaphoebs? And how long since we founded the alliance?”
Zarkon looked at him blankly as Alfor continued, “Before all of that. Back when… back when we were less than friends. Did you ever imagine you’d be here? Welcomed as an honored friend, married to one of our best alchemists, with a half Altean child?”
“I…” Zarkon paused and thought about it, “I… no. No, I can’t say I did.”
He didn’t feel it would be quite prudent to elaborate on where he HAD thought they’d be at this point.
“I did not either.” Alfor confessed. “To be honest, I used to think the conflict between our people was predestined to last another few millennia before any kind of conclusion could be drawn. But, well, then we met and things took on a new perspective and, well…”
“I just feel it really puts things into perspective. It really wasn’t that long ago that we may have taken each other’s heads off had we happened to meet under the right circumstances.”
Zarkon remained silent. It made him feel odd speculating on how things between their people had developed. All had finally turned out well, so he couldn’t see the benefit of how things may have turned out otherwise.
Alfor seemed to pick up on his discomfort, and added soothingly, “I am merely saying that we have accomplished much together. I… we, myself and the others, could never have brought on this new peace without you. I just wanted to let you know that.
“Thank you.” Zarkon finally said after a moment. “I… feel much the same way.”
The sound of a door sliding open drew their attention and Zarkon was surprised to see Honerva standing in the doorway. He almost asked why she had come after all, but then he spotted Queen Melenor at her side, and found the inquiry dying in his throat. Alfor’s wife was the type of woman whom he felt sure could successfully talk the tide into turning with the added caveat of making it think it was its own idea.
Behind her Coran was following after the two ladies dutifully, and in Melenor’s arms there was the Princess Allura. She had grown a lot since Zarkon had seen her last. Long gone was the blanket clad infant, and in her place was a small adorably pudgy toddler in brightly pastel colored clothing.
“And what are you two talking about?” Melenor asked with a smile.
Honerva and Coran came up behind her. Honerva’s face was politely unreadable, with Coran glancing at her with concern.
“Oh just catching up.” Alfor said standing up and meeting his wife part way across the room. Allura immediately reached out towards her father who happily took her up in his arms. “How was your tea.”
“Very informative.” Melenor replied cryptically.
Alfor glanced sheepishly at his old friend. “Honerva, it has been so long. How have you been?”
“Well.” she replied with a chilling politeness.
She looked at Zarkon.
He looked back at her pleadingly.
Honerva sighed and spoke, unwillingly, “You have met our son?”
“Yes!” Alfor replied, happy to have a more solid topic to start a conversation. “I’ve been enjoying young Prince Lotor’s company very much.”
She raised an eyebrow at that, “Did you? He doesn’t normally take to strangers easily if I’m not there.”
Alfor frowned at the lack of friendliness in her voice.
Thankfully, the tension broke when Melenor (thank the ancients for that women) interrupted them.
“Ohh let me see him,” she said giddily moving to get a closer look at Lotor, “Hello there, small one.”
Lotor blinked up at her as he continued to cling to his father.
“It’s alright, you don’t have to be scared.” She said soothingly.
Alfor smiled and carried Allura over to them, “That reminds me, Allura there’s someone you should meet.”
He moved his daughter in his arms until she was facing the smaller child in Zarkon’s arms.
Realizing what was going on, Zarkon immediately cleared his throat and said in a ceremonial manner, “Princess Allura, it is my honor to introduce you to my son and heir, Prince Lotor.”
He then held out the boy in his hands to make it easier for the small toddler to see.
The others watched him do this in silence, though Zarkon could have sworn he heard a suppressed snort coming from Alfor. He ignored it in favor of keeping his noble air. No matter what Alfor thought, moments like this one needed to be dealt with ceremoniously. It was the first meeting of their respective successors after all.
Allura leaned out of her arms excitedly pointed at the Prince, who in return stared at the Princess with a renewed interest. He’d never seen another child this close to him in age before and let out a curious whine and reached out to her. The princess did the same and giggled at the sight of the smaller babe.
“I think they like each other.” Melenor smiled, “I bet the two of them will be excellent friends just like their father’s are.”
Zarkon had to smile at that.
“You had best not get my little girl into any trouble, Lotor.” Alfor said jokingly.
“Hmm, I feel we should be the ones saying that.” Honerva put in lightly.
“Indeed.” Zarkon said dryly. “Of course if we are lucky she will take after her mother.”
Everyone but Alfor and the two children laughed at that.
Alfor gave them all a hurt look, “I don’t drag you into trouble.”
“I could literally not schedule a meeting long enough to tell every story contradicting you.” Zarkon said sarcastically..
Alfor gave him a look.
“Are you being… sarcastic?”
Zarkon frowned and coughed into his hand, “No. That was merely a… metaphor. Of sorts.”
Alfor smirked at him knowingly.
“Well I’m sure your highness’s have much to discuss.” Coran spoke as he skillfully meandered his way into the gold with the practiced air of someone who was used to having to be somewhere very quickly in a very short time frame through very densely populated rooms, “in the meantime, I can take the children and give you all some time alone.”
He then carefully picked Lotor out of his father’s arms with the same practiced hand of Dayak. Though perhaps a bit more gently. Lotor let out a cry of distress.
Coran looked at Zarkon in surprise as Lotor wiggled in his hold. Zarkon stared back with the frozen expressionless face of someone who had just said something without thinking and knew it.
“I-I mean, uh, no. That is not necessary. You need not go out of your way.” Zarkon spoke slowly trying to regain a sense of regal dignity. Though he wasn’t sure of his chances of success.
Luckily for him, Coran had succeeded in his position in part for his ability to improvise in high class social situations for the sake of preserving his king’s dignity.
“It is no trouble at all your eminence.” He spoke kindly and added comfortingly. “Why, I cared for the Princess after she was first born, and I can say assuredly that the Prince will be perfectly safe with- ACK!”
Coran was interrupted by a sudden tug on his mustache. His eyes swiveled down to see a pouting Lotor holding a handful of mustache hair in his tiny fist. He chuckled and tried to remove the hand.
“Oh, yes. He does that.” Alfor said humorously, “It hurts a little but otherwise harmless. Just push his arm away.”
“I’m, uh, I’m trying your highness.” Coran grunted, “He has a, URK, very strong grip.”
“Oh I know. Very healthy.”
“N-no sire. OW. I-I mean it’s a really strong grip!” Coran’s eyes began to bulge and tear up in pain. “REALLY strong!”
“Oh dear,” Honerva hissed, “that means he’s upset.”
“Pardon?” Melenor asked, “What do you mean?”
“I don’t mean to draw attention,” Coran’s whimpered, “but he’s starting to pull.”
Honerva went on unperturbed, “When he gets upset he tends to latch onto something. I think it comforts him. Normally it's his father, so it doesn't cause too much of a stir, but well… there have been incidents where he’ll latch onto bits of armor, random objects, or hair and simply refuse to let go until something calms him down.”
“What happens if he doesn't calm down?” Alfor asked watched Lotor tug painfully on the mustache, his bottom lip quivering.
“He starts crying and pulls on whatever it is. I remember he pulled a whole patch of hair off of-”
“I’m sorry, he pulls it off? But he’s a baby.”
“Yyyyyes,” Honerva hesitated before saying, “it’s not guaranteed, but he has these bouts of strength that seem to randomly come and go. I have no idea what causes them. Though… they DO tend to occur more often when he’s having a meltdown...”
Every parent in the room shifted their trained eyes onto the baby whose face was beginning to scrunch up forbiddingly.
Coran was on the verge of tears, “What do I do? What. Do. I. Do?!”
“Oh just gave him back to his father.” She waved his hand nonchalantly, “and don’t look at me like that darling. Between the two of us, you’re much hardier.”
Before Zarkon could voice a reply he found Coran leaning over and thrusting Lotor towards his father as far as he dared. He took him up into his hands just as Lotor began to let out a wail and pulled. Coran yelped, pulling his head backward instinctively.
Thankfully, most of the manservant's beloved mustache remained on his lip. Save for a few red hairs that poked out between Lotor’s pudgy fingers. Coran nursed his much beloved facial hair with a sniffle.
Alfor couldn’t suppress a snort.
Coran looked to his master with dismay.
“I am sorry,” Alfor said sincerely suppressing a giggle, “but you must admit it is amusing.
Coran’s face fell in silent dejection as Queen Melenor gave her husband a look of disapproval.
Having witnessed the show and finding the whole thing amusing. Princess Allura began tugging violently on her father’s beard. Alfor yelped in pain as Melenor smiled and said ironically, “You must admit it is amusing, dear.”
Honerva watched the whole thing with a smile. Her unsociable attitude having completely disappeared.
Zarkon felt relieved. He’d feared she would be permanently in Alfor’s presence. He then made a note to remember to try and have Melenor or anyone else present when taking her to meet him in future. Meanwhile, Lotor was beginning to calm down in Zarkon’s arms and was taking a keen interest in the goings on.
“Well,” Melenor said ignoring the way her husband looked at her like a kicked puppy, “perhaps now is a good time to get things underway. Coran?”
The manservant straightened dutifully, though his hand still busied itself with combing down his now tangled mustache.
“Can you go get the present we prepared?”
Coran saluted and hurried out.
“Should we be concerned?” Honerva asked, “I only ask because Blaytz tried to give him a knife of all things.”
Melenor looked at her sympathetically, “He meant well no doubt. But no, rest assured, it is perfectly harmless to a child. I made sure of that.”
Alfor looked indignant and muttered under his breath, “It was not that bad.”
The queen sighed and her shoulders went slack with the effort of patience, “It blew up dear.”
“ Once .” King Alfor defended, “I got it working after that.”
Honerva looked about ready to ask, but Melenor raised her hand and said, “In that case we can save it for the future when you have it perfected. Until then, we can focus on things a bit more.., symbolic.”
Coran returned, a small decorative box in his arms, at a speed that Zarkon could find no fault in. He presented it to the royalty with a deep bow.
“Here you are your highness.”
“Thank you, Coran.” Melenor elbowed her husband and nodded towards Zarkon.
“Oh, yes.” Alfor immediately snapped his attention to the business at hand. He handed Allura to her mother, and took a hold of the situation, as well as the box.
Zarkon watched the box with apprehension. After receiving a warm but foul smelling blanket, an experimental science model, and an admittedly well made dagger; he was starting to get suspicious of packages and boxes.
Nonetheless, Zarkon held Lotor at attention his arms. He wasn’t about to have his son looking improper in the face of fellow royalty.
Zarkon became aware of a series of amused stares directed at him. He flushed and very slowly lowered the boy into his lap. No one made any comment, which was almost worse than if they had.
Alfor, however, chose to be discreet and immediately shifted the focus by saying, in his most royal voice, “I do not think anyone in this room, if speaking truthfully, could say we ever expected a day like this would come. When we would host the Galran Emperor and his young son in our court after so many years of conflict, violence, and war.”
There was a lot Zarkon could say against his old friend. That he was reckless, prone to being a tad too trusting, and often took a slack attitude towards both his noble station as well as the disciplining of those who worked under him. He was far too willing, in Zarkon’s opinion, to personally befriend every person he worked with closely, or to whom he had a significant political relationship with.
That being said, out of all his comrades, Alfor definitely had the best understanding of proper ceremony. His words were carefully chosen to show the proper weight and importance of their current situation. It was a pity, Zarkon thought, that only the few present would hear it.
“We have all come a long way in such a short time, and with this meeting I pray we may make even greater progress, both between our people and with the greater universe at large, in the future. It is therefore, with a great sense of humility, that I bestow upon my friend Emperor Zarkon and his son this gift on behalf of myself and all of Altea.”
He then opened the lid and presented the contents.
Zarkon reached in and drew out a circlet of shining silver metal. He turned it over in his hand and saw that a familiar blue crystal was embedded in the metal. It felt thin and light in his large clawed fingers and, had he not known better, he would have said he could crumple it with just a flex of his hand. However, everything of Altean make tended to seem lithe only to prove to be surprisingly sturdy.
He knew exactly what it was. He’s seen it many time on Melenor’s brow and now on the brown of the toddler princess.
“This… is a crown.” Zarkon said slowly.
Melenor nodded, “Well, a circlet. We used to go in for crowns, but as the role of leader became more, er, active it became clear that having a big hunk of metal and crystal on one's head does not have the best effect on the spine.”
“You are giving it to my son?”
“Yes,” Alfor nodded, “we offered Honerva the same thing but she did not take to it.”
“I didn’t,” Honerva sighed. “They are lovely but I’m not used to wearing such things.”
She carefully left out that she had feared Zarkon’s court wouldn’t have approved of her wearing an Altean crown. At the time of their engagement Honerva had overheard arguments between them regarding the Emperor making such a dramatic break of tradition. So in the interest of diplomacy, she had turned down Alfor and Melenor’s well meant wedding gift.
It had been a necessary compromise in Honerva’s ongoing consolidation of her own authority. She hadn’t had to make many. As it turned out, Galra could be very obliging. Given that you spoke to them in a tone that promised general unpleasantness to anyone who didn’t show the proper respect.
She wasn’t so sure about her son. She could hardly take the circlet away, or turn it down on Lotor’s behalf. It was a reminder of the things she knew he would to inevitably deal with. However, it may have been for the best. It was, after all, just another symbol of what couldn’t be denied.
“He is royalty.” Melenor said, “This is our way of showing that Altea recognizes that.”
“Thank you,” Zarkon said meaningfully holding the thing out to his son, who took it, stared, and then gave it his gummy slobbery seal of approval.
“It’s more symbolic than anything else.” Alfor said simply. “You can feel free to leave it for ceremonies, or leave it in the back of a cupboard.”
“I would not dream of such a thing!”
Alfor paused and added, “No. You wouldn’t.”
That, Alfor thought, was one of the likable things about Zarkon. He really knew how to appreciate symbolic gestures of friendship. Even if sometimes he ended up taking inferences that weren’t there.
A platter of drinks seemed to appear out of thin air next to his head. He looked up to see the ready face of Coran beaming at him. Really, the man was a mind reader.
Alfor took one of the chalices and offered a second to Zarkon.
Zarkon took the drink in hand and grinned at his old friend.
“To our future.”
The chalices clinked.
Chapter 5: Zarkon
Finally, it came time for the homecoming.
There were not many other peoples’ who, even at the greatest stretch of their own standards, would call Daibazaal ‘beautiful’. But it was home. Zarkon was grateful to once more have his feet firmly planted on the soil of his own planet, and for him and his family to have at least a few days leisure after touring the universe.
In the end, the journey had not been as miserable as he’d initially feared. The chiding of his friends had been minimal, and their opinions of his new son had been especially appreciated. It was a comfort to Zarkon that his family and his people had such comrades for the long unknown future ahead.
They’d returned home just as the mid-afternoon was drawing to a close so that now, as Zarkon sat on the balcony, he had the good fortune to watch as the yellow late afternoon sky began to turn red on the horizon. A soothing time of day for the hardworking minds of the Galra, who would soon be retiring for meal and rest until the next morning.
Honerva had run off to see to the business she had put on hold in favor of the journey. Though she promised to join her family once she had finished.
“Which surely means she will be long coming,” Zarkon muttered more to himself than Lotor, who sat contently in his lap, “that is the way of your mother, I fear.”
Lotor gave no reply. Not that his father expected any. Instead, the child nuzzled into the folds of Zarkon’s robes, clearly preferring them to the usual chestplate.
It was a sign of his tiredness that Zarkon had removed his armor so early before bed. He never dared to appear before his subjects, or indeed anyone else, without it if he could help it. It would not do for the Galran Emperor to be so slack in his appearances.
It was true that many Emperors before him had settled on fine regal apparel when displaying themselves, but Zarkon had never preferred it. Such gaudy clothing was too audacious for his liking. A strong set of armor, now, sent exactly the kind of message the people needed.
Strong, unshakeable, and ready for anything.
Zarkon looked down at Lotor, “You will undoubtedly turn heads one day. For good or ill.”
It had taken him a strangely long while to notice his son’s striking appearance. The matter had not even occurred to him in the face of the much more pressing matter of the newborn's unstable health. Afterward, however, it became a topic of much discussion amongst the Galran court.
Zarkon feared that the talk was non-committal at best. No matter. Whatever his generals and commanders thought they WOULD come to respect their Prince.
They had to.
“You are my son.” Zarkon said quietly as he petted the child's head, “No matter what others say, that fact can not be changed.”
Again there was no response. Unless one could count the tasting of one’s robes as a response.
“My son and heir,” He reiterated, “You will carry on my legacy. All that I have shall be yours in the future.”
Frowning, Zarkon pulled Lotor away from his clothes and held him out in front of him. Lotor stared back at his father with big blue eyes.
“You do not understand a single thing I am saying, do you?”
The Prince made a small sound as he grasped his father’s nose.
It was a cute display, but Zarkon found himself unable to smile. His thoughts had drifted to the uncertainties and dread that plagued him.
“You will take over for me. There will be no argument.”
Zarkon looked once more at the horizon and, in a sudden spur of inspiration, he stood up. Lotor made a slight cry of surprise but was otherwise undisturbed.
He made his way to the edge of the balcony and looked out upon the epicenter of his Empire. The twinkling lights of the homes of workers, servants, merchants, and soldiers alike lay before him expanding across their world. Evidence of prosperity his people had never before known.
Zarkon held Lotor out over the balcony, and towards the lights. Presenting his world, his people, with their young Prince. The one who would be King hereafter and-
The moment of greatness shattered and fell apart. All importance and heraldry flowed away and in its place came an overwhelming feeling of apprehension.
He looked over his shoulder to see Honerva standing the balcony door staring at him.
“B-Beloved, I was just-”
“What are you doing with our son?!” She moved forward with a force that would make even his bravest warriors take a step back, and snatched Lotor from his arms, “What would you have done if you’d dropped him?!”
Honerva’s voice was harsh, and she glared at her husband with anger he wasn’t used to.
“I-It was…. Ceremony…” He said in his defense.
Sadly this didn’t work.
“I have been living on this planet for nearly three years, and have been married to you for two of them! Do not insult me by implying I don’t know the difference between ceremony and dramatics.”
“My love,” Zarkon said pathetically trying to make an appeal.
Honerva ignored him turning her back and heading off the balcony. Zarkon watched them leave helplessly. As she walked away, Lotor turned his head over his mother’s shoulder and gave a happy giggle and a wave to his father.
His mood dropping, Zarkon crossed his arms and muttered irritably, “Don’t get used to it, boy.”
~~12 years later~~
“Sit still Prince, I am nearly finished.”
Lotor felt like telling the manservant off, he felt so agitated, but he controlled himself. He felt he’d been standing here for vargas as Coran made minor adjustments to his raiment, though in reality, it had only been a few minutes. Even so the boy’s legs were beginning to grow stiff.
It wasn’t that Lotor disliked the clothes, but Coran and Queen Melenor insisted on tugging, readjusting, and swapping out whole items of clothing for others. Then they’d stand back, look Lotor over, and do it again. It made him feel like one of Allura’s dolls.
“Are you done yet?” Lotor asked trying not to let the whine slip into his voice.
“Juuuuust abouuuut…” Coran paused, readjusted the small shoulder cape, brushed off some non-existent dust, stopped, then began readjusting it again.
“Coran,” Melenor prodded gently.
Taking the hint, Coran removed his hands and finally said, “done!”
Lotor let out a relieved sigh.
The raiment was the same lightweight warm, yet airy, material that all Altean clothes were made from. However, his good parents had taken care to adorn him in the colors of his father’s people. Red, black, and grey with gold trimmings. All in the same, or as near the same, tones as his father’s armor.
Melenor’s gentle hands rested on his shoulders, “You are twelve years old today. Are you nervous?”
Lotor blushed a little in embarrassment as he looked down to avoid her gaze in the mirror.
“Not particularly,” he lied trying to come off as aloof and completely failing. Already he felt the butterflies in his stomach farming.
Amongst Alteans, the twelfth year was an important event. A precipice between the ending of childhood and the beginning of adulthood. It was an opportunity to look back on past friendships and events and forward towards the renewed future.
In Lotor’s particular case, his twelfth birthday was being made into a momentous occasion. All five central members of the alliance, as well as countless other representatives of other planets, would be in attendance. Many of them would be seeing the half-Galra prince in person for the first time, a fact that only made him feel more nervous.
Melenor saw through him almost immediately and said comfortingly, “I was nervous on my twelfth. As was Allura, though I dare say she will deny it.”
Lotor shifted a little but was comforted, if only a little. He looked again at his costume in the mirror and sighed, “I look silly.”
“For what it is worth,” Melenor stood up and through the mirror's reflection Lotor saw his mother standing in the doorway, “I think you look dashing.”
“Mother!” Lotor shouted with glee and ran to her.
She bent down and enveloped him in her arms.
“I am overjoyed to see you again,” Honerva said quietly, “Your father and I have missed you so.”
Lotor pulled out of the hug and looked eagerly over her shoulder, “Father is here?!”
His face was so hopeful that Honerva’s face became regretful, “I am afraid not. There was sudden… business that your father needed to see to.”
Lotor’s face fell in disappointment. This was far from the first time Zarkon had failed to meet with his son as he studied on Altea. Yet Honerva suspected the fact it was his birthday, and an important one at that made Zarkon’s absence more glaring.
“He will come.” She assured, tucking a strand of hair behind one of Lotor’s ears, “He swore he would come just as soon as he finished with his business. You trust your father’s word, do you not?”
There was a moment of hesitation before Lotor nodded. Honerva kissed his forehead and stood. Melenor and Coran came to greet her, and she made idle chat in response.
Her heart, however, still lingered on the thought of Zarkon. She didn’t dare tell Lotor that his father was in the midst of fighting pirates alongside his men as they were here preparing for festivities; there was enough to worry their son without his father’s safety weighing on his mind.
Zarkon had asked her to only tell Alfor and the other paladins in case Zarkon called for their aid. It was unlikely he would need it, with many of his most capable generals and commanders at his side. However, she feared that her husband's absence from the ceremony may be remarked upon by those in attendance, and not to his credit.
Honerva prayed he would arrive before the day’s close, for Lotor’s sake if nothing else.
Zarkon cursed as his knee struck a line of weapons leaning against the wall, toppling them all into a pile on the floor and sending a plume of dust into the air. The particles tickled his throat, forcing a deep harsh cough. Only when the air settled, and his breathing more clear, did he once more try and move through the room crowded with some of the Galra’s greatest treasures.
Despite himself, Zarkon was impressed by the treasure trove. He had always known about the horde of ancient weapons and armor that had belonged to his people’s previous emperors and great warriors. However though he had won the Empire many years ago, he had never bothered to explore the pile.
He knew that some held the collection in high regard. Almost as though they were the same as a set of crown jewels. It displayed his people’s long, and oftentimes unrepresented, history of craftsmanship. Swords, armor, shields, as well as a scarce few other instruments and weapons, forged long ago by the Galra’s expert smiths.
The sight of it filled Zarkon with both pride and sadness. Many of these things had been created in the old days. When resources had been so scarce and rare that his people had spilled each other’s blood for a meager supply of metals. Yet none of these things were likely to find any use in the future. Not if the peace they’d attained remained.
How his father and ancestors would have felt about such a thing, he could not fathom.
Zarkon hefted a shield from a table and held it aloft. It was thick and well-forged with a terrifying face molded into the metal with the intent to intimidate. It was an excellent example of Galran metalwork.
However, Zarkon sighed in disappointment, “Too heavy.”
Lotor would never be able to lift it with his size. Even if he didn’t have the muscle tension of a piece of string.
He dropped the shield on the table with a clatter and glanced over some others. Even the smallest amongst them would likely cause Lotor to topple over the moment he tried to take a step. It would have almost been laughable to see if the inevitable embarrassment didn’t threaten to haunt Zarkon’s every step.
Zarkon didn’t bother to look at the armor. None of it had been made for anyone with Lotor’s build. Even if his son did hit some kind of sudden miraculous growth spurt, he couldn’t see how he’d grow enough to effectively fill out any of this armor.
He was beginning to grow angry at the difficulty of this search.
Already he was worn from his battle with the pirates, which he was embarrassed to admit had been more difficult than he had expected. They had not been a typical band of brigands. More organized and disciplined than the usual sort of parasite that preyed on his people’s hard earned bounty.
They’d prevented them from taking their target, and struck down a few of the scoundrels, but the ship and crew had managed to evade capture and escape. Zarkon had wanted to give chase, but there was too much immediately at hand that he had to see to. Escorting the ship the rest of the way for one, and for another, he was clearly going to be late for Lotor’s silly Altean birthday ceremony.
Birthdays were not grandiose things amongst the Galra. They were celebrated, of course, but as quiet affairs between family and friends. Small gifts and well wishes were given in passing, and occasionally there’d be a special meal of some sort, but that was all.
However, the Alteans enjoyed such revelry and came up with any excuse imaginable to have a celebration. A trait, Zarkon had to admit, that he was happy his wife didn’t entirely share. She gave great weight to all their birthdays, but as she was his own dear wife and Lotor’s mother, this was excusable. Outside of that she only made small accommodations for the yearly holidays and traditions of her people that had no equivalent on Daibazaal.
When they’d first begun living together, Zarkon had fretted she would grow tired of him and his people and long for her own planet. Perhaps even regretting their union in time. However, these fears had quickly proved unfounded. Honerva had even expressed satisfaction at no longer having to interrupt her work for some small party that she herself had no stake in.
On this occasion, though, she had been adamant.
Lotor was to celebrate his twelfth year in traditional Altean fashion. With all the pomp and circumstance befitting someone of his station.
Of that, at least, Zarkon could make no complaint. If Alfor wanted to provide his son with the same regal attendance that he gave to his own daughter on her twelfth, then let him and allow all in attendance to see that Lotor of Daibazaal was the equal of any future Queen.
Zarkon checked the time again. It would not be long now before the crews were switched out, the ship was prepared, and they could depart. He didn’t dare take any of his own men with him after the battle. They had to both rest and sort through what little information about their opponents they’d managed to collect. That meant going through the time consuming process of quickly assigning a crew and readying a ship.
He had initially been grateful for the excuse as an extra bit of time since he had yet to pick out any kind of meaningful gift to give his son. On previous birthdays, Zarkon had merely given the boy a few rare sweets he’d come across or small trinkets he thought the child might treasure. Only once did he give him anything remotely close to a weapon, a small dull toy sword, that Lotor had readily accepted and proceeded to torment the guards with.
However, time had worn on and he still hadn’t found anything suitable. He had hoped that the old treasures of his forebears would yield at least one weapon or shield that his son could wield, but he found nothing. Worse yet, there was no time to get any of their current craftsman to make something.
Zarkon didn’t dare show up on Altea without a gift. Honerva was already guaranteed to be furious with his late arrival, and incurring her wrath further was to be avoided at all costs. Something, anything, would be better than nothing.
In a rush, Zarkon began shuffling through the various bits of metal on one of the shelves. Rattling the whole structure in his hurry. He heard a few things fall off and clatter to the floor, but since they were merely small useless bits of metal, he ignored them and continued to shuffle.
The shelf rattled violently until Zarkon heard something slip from the top of the shelf. It struck the top of his head and fell at his feet. The strike brought him out of his panic and he looked down to see what the offending object had been.
Reaching down, he picked up a small metal box from the ground. It was an odd thing to find in a place filled with weapons of war. As he looked closer he could intricate carvings on the outer rim, as well as a latch that was far too decorative for a simple container.
On a whim, he lifted the lid and peered inside.
There was a knock on the door.
“Enter,” Zarkon grunted stilling staring at the contents.
The door slid open, and Sendak appeared in the doorway.
“Sire,” he saluted smartly, “The ship and crew have been prepared. We are ready to depart for Altea on your word.”
“Thank you, Sendak.” Zarkon closed the box with a snap and turned with it in hand, “I shall be taking my leave immediately.”
“Of course, my liege.”
“You are to remain here.”
There was a look of disappointment on the man’s face. An argument was ready on his lips, just barely being suppressed.
Zarkon sighed. Sendak may have been young, but already he was one of Zarkon’s most promising soldiers. Even before he had taken him under his tutelage, he showed a potential that far outshone many of his more senior officers. His loyalty was a difficult one to match.
“You are fresh from battle.” Zarkon explained as patiently as he could, “As are all of the men under your command. You are to rest here until you are back in peak condition, understood?”
Sendak hesitated but gave a nod and a sturdy salute, “Sir.”
“Besides,” Zarkon added throwing the man a bone, “I require somebody here to keep an eye on the proceedings while I am away. I will expect a full report from both you and all the others, understood?”
Immediately, Sendak perked up. “Absolutely, sire.”
With that, he departed. Zarkon left the ancient dust-filled room and sealed the door behind him, the box still in his hand.
It wasn’t what Zarkon would consider a marvelous gift, but it would do under the circumstances.
They were all staring at him.
Every dignitary they greeted looked down at him and held their gaze before moving on. A few smiled at him and said a small greeting, but most only looked at him while addressing King Alfor or his mother. Lotor would have slipped away long ago had it not been for Honerva’s firm hands on his shoulders.
Anyone who lingered too long received her chilling gaze before making some departing remark and hurrying away.
It was a relief when they went away to prepare for the ceremony. Away from all the prying, curious, calculating eyes and into the main hall where the ceremony would be held. Coran and a few other servants were waiting for them.
“Welcome back! How was the greeting, prince?”
“I-It was…” Lotor stammered at first before clearing his throat and saying with a confidence he didn’t actually feel, “It went well.”
“Is all prepared?” Alfor asked as Honerva looked over the preparations.
“It is my king,” Coran said with a bow. “All the guests have arrived.” Then with a glance to Honerva, “Er, most of them.”
“Then we shall begin soon. When my daughter arrives we can have one final practice and then-”
Almost as though the mere mention of the princess had summoned her, Allura appeared behind Lotor and covered his eyes with her hands.
“Guess who?” She asked playfully.
She frowned and removed her hands with a huff, “I have told you to call me Allura .”
Lotor’s shoulder went slack in surrender, “Yes, pr-Allura.”
“Better,” Slightly mollified for the moment, Allura changed tracks and picked up the hem of her skirt in display, “I got a new dress for your birthday! Do you like it?”
Lotor looked at the long flowing dress with the eyes of someone who had little understanding of such things, but nonetheless, read the princesses excited expression and responded accordingly.
“Yes, it is lovely pr-Allura.”
She smiled at him before excitedly chattering all about the party and ceremony, and giving unasked for advice derived from her own twelfth birthday ceremony. Lotor said nothing but silently listened as they practiced for the ceremony. Her company made Lotor feel just a bit less nervous about presenting himself in front of so many people.
“Where is Zarkon?” Allura asked suddenly with naive innocence.
Lotor instinctively scrunched up, “Father is not here yet.”
“He isn’t?” Allura looked surprised, “That’s weird.”
“He is busy,” Lotor said his small hands clenched into fists.
Allura failed to notice, “My father was busy too, but he was still present for my ceremony.”
“He does not HAVE to be here. Besides, he might still make it.”
“But the ceremonies about to start. If he is not here soon he will miss it!”
Lotor glared down at his shoes. His face suddenly flushed with embarrassment and anger.
“Then he will miss it. My father has more important things to do than yours.” He spoke coldly, “and you should call him sire or Emperor . I do not recall him ever giving you permission to call him otherwise.”
Allura’s mouth dropped open in shock. Then her face scrunched up in an indignant rage and opened her mouth to give some kind of retort but was interrupted by a firm hand on her shoulder.
“Allura.” Melenor said sternly, “Can I speak to you for a moment?”
The princess looked up at her mother, a look of injustice on her face. However, the queen’s stern stare caused her to give no reply. She glared at Lotor as she was lead away.
Lotor didn’t watch her leave. Instead, he kept glaring at his shoes, doing his best not to cry.
Allura was exaggerating like always. Nothing about his current situation was weird . His father was the leader of his people, so of course, he missed private engagements a lot. The fact that it was usually engagements with Lotor was certainly just coincidence.
Still, his absence was noticed. Lotor could tell.
None of the adults had actually said anything to him, but he’d seen them talking. Some of the guests had looked around before leaning in and whispering to King Alfor and his mother. No words actually reached his ears but from the looks, on their faces, he could tell they’d been discussing his father.
Lotor wiped his eyes with his sleeve, then stood up straight praying no one had noticed. This was supposed to be an occasion welcoming him into the beginnings of adulthood. He couldn’t break down crying after the ceremony had started just because he wanted his father.
That wasn’t something an adult, let alone a prince, was supposed to do.
It all came down to- what had his father always said?
Right now Lotor needed to have discipline.
Discipline not to let his feelings ruin the ceremony. Discipline to accept and understand Zarkon’s priorities. Discipline to focus on his own duties.
Lotor was getting really sick of having to have discipline.
Allura seemed able to do whatever she wished, and no one ever accused her of never having discipline. Of course, she did get in trouble far more often than Lotor did. Had far more fun too. Funny how those two things seemed to intersect.
The ceremony began.
Queen Melenor had told him that most Altean birthdays were celebrated much the same they were anywhere. Though the twelfth was special, everyday Alteans merely had an unusually big celebration with multiple guests. Royals and nobles, however, were expected to do a little more.
Lotor stood at the bottom of the stairs feeling small in the castle’s large ballroom. Music was being played as people filed into the room in pairs, taking their places on opposite walls, well within view of where the young prince stood.
Allura stood at his side. Though she was now a step further from him than she otherwise would have been. He was beginning to regret losing his patience with the princess and wished he could once again enjoy the comfort of her company.
However, her unwillingness to speak may have been a blessing in disguise. For, much to Lotor’s own surprise, he didn’t feel at all like apologizing.
The music began to reach its end. This was it. The ceremony had officially begun. Everybody who was going to be there was already here.
Lotor gave one last forlorn look over the surrounding crowd before finally giving up. His father wasn’t coming.
The doors on the far end of the room swung open and Chief Gyrgan strode in with a big excitable grin. There were two other Rygnarathians with him, but they seemed to fade into the background in the wake of the Chieftains ongoing bulk. The prince braced himself as they met.
“Thank you for coming Gyrgan of Rygnarath,” Lotor recited carefully. He had rehearsed what he would say for a week straight, “it is an honor to have you here.”
“It is an honor to be here young princeling.”
Lotor’s smile twitched. He could handle being called Prince rather than his name. People did it all the time (along with various other miscellaneous titles). However, he drew the line at princeling .
Princeling made him sound like a small kid.
However, Lotor swallowed his pride. Gyrgan ALWAYS called him princeling in that innocently over friendly way of his. No disrespect was meant. Besides, he technically outranked him.
Lotor wasn’t allowed to get mad at people who outranked him and meant no offense.
Even if he really wanted to.
Deep breath. Discipline.
At his side, Honerva offered him a folded blanket. Lotor took it and tried not to breath through his nose.
“Twelve years before today you bestowed this gift upon myself and my family.” Really it was probably something closer to eleven years and some months, but Lotor wasn’t about to correct. “In honor of our ongoing friendship. I bestow this gift back upon you.”
He held up the nexo fur blanket trying not to let his eyes water. It was amazing really. Honerva had aired out the blanket every couple of years and yet the smell had never entirely gone away. A fascinating phenomenon in its own weird way.
Gyrgan’s smile widened. What was supposed to happen was Gyrgan was to take the blanket in his hands in an important manner, exchange some words, and then hand it back. Instead, Lotor found himself being lifted, blanket and all, into the air and being uncomfortably crushed against the chieftain's chest.
“It is my pleasure to accept, princelin-uh, Prince Lotor of Daibazaal.” He then crushed him more, as Lotor’s legs began to kick and he screamed a muffled reply.
“Gyrgan,” Honerva hissed quietly through her teeth trying not to drop her smile.
“It would be appreciated if you didn’t suffocate my son.”
He stood at her uncomprehendingly before looking down and going, “Oh,” and mercilessly pulled the boy from his chest.
Lotor gasped for air and tried to pretend he couldn’t hear the sniggers from the surrounding crowd.
Gyrgan chuckled awkwardly before setting him down carefully and dusting off his shoulders.
“Sorry,” He said smoothing Lotor’s hair and trying to ignore the shadows of one of Zarkon’s glares on the boy's face.
“It’s… fine.” Lotor strained, deciding to skip to the end, “Thank you for coming.”
Next was Trigel. Lotor liked Lady Trigel. He and Lady Trigel had an understanding.
He knew that she didn’t like children, but that was all right because he wasn’t a child.
“Welcome Lady Trigel!” He said this time with a genuine grin, “It is a joy to have you here today.”
Trigel looked back at him politely, “Likewise.”
“On this day I gratefully thank you for gifting me this… uh… this…” He stopped as he stared at the item in his hands.
Funny thing, no one had actually said what it was. In fact, outside of a few foggy memories of putting the thing in his mouth, his mother used it most of the time. He hadn’t even realized it HAD been a gift intended for him until last night.
Lotor mentally shrugged. Oh well, he must’ve been mistaken.
“...toy?” he finished experimentally. No one said anything, so Lotor went on, “Toy, yes, this toy.”
Lotor handed it to her.
Trigel looked at the model in her hands. She could take it back. What could Honerva do? Stop her in front of all these people?
Of course, Venreer was at her side watching her. He’d have a thing or two to say to her if she took it. Well, took it back. But then, what could he do? He did work for her after all.
She felt a tug on her clothing and looked down. Lotor looked up at her and whispered, “You’re supposed to hand it back.”
Trigel’s jaw clenched.
For some reason she could not properly comprehend, Zarkon’s son liked her.
Trigel had nothing against the boy. In fact, he was enjoyably polite, well spoken, and an excellent conversationalist for his age. Reasonably intelligent too, now that she thought about it.
Now he was staring up at her innocently.
His words finally processed. Oh, quiznak, he actually thought she didn’t know what to do; didn’t even occur to him that she might not give it back.
Trigel looked at Honerva, who stared back unhelpfully. She suppressed a groan and gave up. She handed it back unwillingly.
Lotor took it back with a smile.
“Thank you,” He said politely. “Sorry I didn’t know what it actually was. I always thought it was a spatial matter model or something.”
Trigel stared at him.
Honerva stared at him.
Lotor stared back, blinking innocently.
“Nothing,” Trigel sighed, “Happy birthday, young Lotor.”
People were watching intently this time. The background chatter had ceased, ironically alerting Lotor that it had existed. In its place was an expectant silence.
“Sooo,” Blaytz stood awkwardly as his voice echoed across the room, “having a good birthday?”
“Yes?” Lotor replied.
“Good, good,” Blaytz cleared his throat, “Get anything good for your birthday?”
The prince didn’t reply. They were off script now. Lotor didn’t know what he was expected to say. He was holding the knife out to Blaytz on a pillow.
Blaytz just stood and looked at it. Somehow he’d expected the shell. Certainly, he knew that technically the shell wasn’t to be presented until Lotor properly came of age (whenever that was for Alteans and Galra), but he’d somehow assumed an exception would be made. After being at war for so long, surely someone other than himself would have thought that a Nalquodian holding a knife in front of a Galra prince was a bad idea for a ceremony.
“Okay look,” Blaytz tried to speak without echoing off the walls, “you know I’m not gonna stab you right?”
Lotor blinked, looked at the blade, then at Blaytz, “I did .”
He sighed, “Right.”
Blaytz hated politics. Especially in times like this when he had no idea what to do, but everyone expected him to. He looked at Honerva hopefully, but she glared back at him as though to say, “You brought this on yourself.”
“Ah, quiznak it.” He swore, reached down, grasped the dagger by its blade, and picked it up.
No one reacted.
Blaytz nodded at Lotor who took the hint.
“Thank you Blaytz of Nalquod for your, uh, your continued support.” He paused and ad-libbed, “and for your many years of loyal friendship with father and myself.”
Blaytz smiled and patted the boys head as he offered the handle of the blade to the Prince. Lotor took it hesitantly, not daring to move it until after Blaytz removed his fingers from the blade.
There was a round of applause. Lotor looked at the crowd in confusion as his mother confiscated the knife.
“Don’t worry,” Lotor looked at Blaytz as he gave his head another comforting pat, “you’ll understand one day, kid.”
This was the awkward bit.
Traditionally, Lotor had to symbolically return all the gifts he had received as a show of goodwill, and this included everyone. Even King Alfor and Queen Melenor, whose castle he had been living in for the past year, and from whom he had been afforded everything from medical aid to extensive education.
Needless to say, grandstanding at the bottom of their stairs, in their ballroom, in front of more than a few of their subjects, felt a little disrespectful coming from the young Prince. But the two had settled his fears by telling him that they would be delighted to take part in the ceremony and added that shows of humility were more than welcome from the royalty of Altea.
Allura had initially been planned to take part, but after a hushed talk with her mother she now stood off to the side with the manservant, Coran. Her face seemed expressionless, but just the slightest shadow of a pout remained on her face. Lotor made it a point to not meet her gaze.
Lotor held the circlet in both his hands, rolling it in his fingers nervously. The other paladins had been one thing. They were all guests here, and it had felt more like their meeting was being hosted in the castle. This felt more… intrusive.
Melenor watched as the boy fiddled with the headdress and couldn’t help but be reminded of how Honerva had nervously toyed with her veil on her wedding day. She made a mental note of it, adding it to the numerous other traits the pair shared. Then she put on a smile that she hoped would comfort the child.
“Do not worry,” she whispered.
Lotor looked up at her.
“If it helps,” She said, “think of this as doing us a service.”
He looked at her, clearly not having understood, but still gave a polite nod.
Melenor suppressed a sigh. There were times when she thought young Lotor had been brought up to be too polite. It was unnatural, she was sure, for children to be so quiet and obliging. It couldn’t last. Sooner or later something was bound to burst.
Despite his discomfort, Lotor began, “Lastly, but far from least important, I wish to thank King Alfor and Queen Melenor for their gift. As well as the kindness of hosting me in their home and providing for me for the past year. It is with a great deal of honor that I return your gift to me so as to strengthen the alliance between my mother and father’s people.”
He then held out the circlet to them. Glancing around him to see if his performance had been well received. The crowd was silent.
Melenor knew it meant nothing. The ceremony had been going on for some time now, and the onlookers were doubtless growing weary. Besides, they likely did not wish to appear too exuberant in the presence of a prince of a socially conservative ally.
Lotor, however, didn’t appear to realize this and instantly clenched his fist and tried to sink into the floor.. She took pity on him and was about to quickly move to the end so the boy could get himself out of the public eye. However, Alfor then spoke up.
“We have been more than happy to have you in our home Prince Lotor. You have been an excellent student and companion to my daughter all this time.”
Everyone stared at him. Alfor was very much breaking from the rehearsed script and going down some unknown track of his own. Melenor and Honerva shared a worried look.
Lotor, meanwhile, was blushing at the flow of compliments. Trying to hide how pleased the words made him. He did not often hear such wholesome unhindered praise. His own father wasn’t un complimentary but he tended to be more reserved in his judgments.
“In honor of having such a prodigious student as yourself, I hope you would accept a small boon on behalf of one of your tutors.” With a flourish, Alfor drew something seemingly out of nowhere, and offered it to Lotor, “For your birthday.”
Trained discipline gave away to the greedy curiosity of a child as Lotor took the item before his mother could give any protest and inspected it. It was around glassy, orb about the size of a small ball. Small veins of blue crisscrossed the surface between numerous circles containing Altean symbols.
“It is a compass,” Alfor explained, “we Alteans have used it when navigating in unknown space. I think it will be of great use in the future. It is difficult to properly calibrate and use, but I think you are more than capable of learning to handle it.”
Lotor turned it over in his hands trying to see all the different symbols and lines and which intersected with which. He could just imagine using it on the deck of a cruiser, navigating through the cosmos, exploring new planets, and meeting new people. It took a moment for him to remember his manners, and say, “Thank you, King Alfor,. I-I happily accept this on behalf of my family.”
Honerva looked at Alfor with a questioning glance, “You made it yourself?”
“Unfortunately, no,” Alfor sighed, “I tried to get back to work on the more advanced version I started on all those years ago. However, I could not find the plans.”
Honerva and Melenor exchanged a conspiratorial look and an answering nod.
And with that, the ceremony came to an end.
He was late. Very late. Later then he had anticipated.
Zarkon had faced down many things in his time. Armies, weblums, unilu traders, and other more dangerous adversaries. None of them had made him blink.
Now, however, he dreaded facing the full force of his wife’s wrath.
Married life presented many unique consequences.
It was dark on Altea when he arrived. The planets artificial rings arched across the sky as the numerous stocking bays and shipyards floated past in the upper atmosphere on their predesigned paths. Although the Altean ruling class were a bit more lax with their subjects than Zarkon would have liked, they were plenty organized in their systems and technology. The platforms procession in the atmosphere was so precise that Zarkon’s ship could easily chart a course that took him straight to the castle.
(Zarkon made a mental note to gently bring up the security risk this with Alfor.)
As he disembarked, Zarkon tried to mentally prepare himself for the inevitable. So busy was he, mentally orchestrating the proper combination of excuses and apologies that he fairly jumped out of his skin when a hand was placed on his shoulder. He whirled around expecting Honerva or even perhaps King Alfor.
Instead, Queen Melenor stood looking up at him in concern.
“Are you alright, Emperor Zarkon?”
He stared at her dumbly for a moment before managing a reply, “Yes, Your Majesty. Just a little… tired. From the long journey.”
Melenor gave no reply. Instead, she stood quietly as Zarkon gave his imen instructions in regard to restocking their supplies and reporting into whoever was in charge of the hangar. Only once he was finished did she finally speak, “Would you like me to show you to your room?”
Zarkon almost said yes out of sheer instinct, but then his self-preservation kicked in and he said, “No, I need to speak with Honerva.”
“You may have to wait. She is with Alfor at the moment.”
“Is that wise?” Zarkon asked slowly. Honerva had warmed back up to the King in recent years. Especially since he’d begun looking after Lotor. The arrangement had forced frequent and civil interaction. However, she still tended to avoid being alone with him lest they dredge up old arguments.
“I do not see why now.” Melenor shrugged, “I am certain one of the hundreds of guests in the same room would have said something if it wasn’t.”
“Oh,” Zarkon rubbed his neck. He’d somehow forgotten numerous people attending the event. There wouldn’t be much chance of a private meeting.
“Yes, I fear it may be a while before she is available. She is having to speak to everyone. Typical party fare. Thanking the guests for coming, inquiring into their doing, excusing your absence. That sort of thing.”
It was an odd thing, but Queen Melenor could be speaking like normal and yet still manage to convey a layer of criticism.
“I… apologize for my late arrival. There were, uh, extenuating circumstances.”
“Oh, you need not apologize to me .”
Zarkon shifted uncomfortably.
Message received, loud and clear.
Lotor stared out at Altea’s night sky. It was cloudless, perfect for viewing the stars from the surface. It wasn’t like this on Daibazaal, where it could get dark, even bypassing the usual dark red of the early evening in favor of a blackish blue.
But you could rarely see the stars with the naked eye in all their splendor - not like this
The upper atmosphere on Daibazaal needed to be just the right mix of elements, a rare occurrence. Lotor could remember staying up past his curfew and slipping out of his room just to get a look at them. He’d dug up whole environmental records stretching back decaphoebs and strategically predicted when he’d get to see them again.
On Altea, all he had to do was wait for a cloudless night.
Lotor hugged his legs to his chest and rested his chin on his knees.
He’d excused himself from the party early. No one had really noticed. Those who had either couldn’t go after him or otherwise knew to leave him alone. Which was good because he wanted to be alone.
The observation deck with the big window had seemed to be as good a place as any. People would have looked for him in his room or anywhere else. Here, it was dark, quiet, and unfrequented at night. A decent enough place to go when he wanted to be alone and just… think
His father hadn't come. Not that Lotor cared. His father was free to come and go as he pleased.
It was the look of the thing that mattered. If he’d just showed up at the last minute that would have been fine. Everyone would have seen him and known he’d made the effort.
They’d have still said things but they wouldn’t have been able to say things about him not showing up.
It made Lotor feel angry. Before he'd just been saddened and embarrassed. Now, though, he was angry.
Sad, embarrassed, and angry was a foul combination when you’ve only just turned twelve.
The door behind him opened. An event that did nothing for his mood. However, he bit back a shouted demand to be left alone. He’d snapped at Allura and she hadn’t spoken to him all evening. For all, he knew the High Mayor of Whatever had just gotten lost on his way to the toilet.
His ears twitched at the sound of his father’s voice. For a brief moment, Lotor was angrier than he’d ever been.
NOW he was here? Now that Lotor was alone in some far unseen corner of the castle where no one could see? Now, when all these people with their stares and whispers and things were off to snigger to themselves?
After all that his father showed up NOW?!
Lotor sat on the floor unmoved, not trusting himself to turn around and NOT look completely furious.
The logical and emotional parts of his mind were at war. On the one hand, he knew his father was busy. He knew that the running of an entire planet, and manning the alliance's defense and leading Voltron all logically took priority over whatever the little Prince was doing.
On the other hand…
The beginnings of a frustrated growl echoed from Zarkon’s throat. He wasn’t accustomed to not having his addresses answered immediately. Lotor could hear the intake of breath that would start his light scolding. If his father did that, then he was sure he wouldn’t be able to keep his own temper.
Thankfully Queen Melenor’s crisp light voice drifted in from outside the door.
“Ah, here you are Prince Lotor! We have been looking for you. I am happy to say that your father has finally arrived.”
Her voice prompted Lotor to turn around just in time to see the queen pushing his father into the room. Zarkon froze in shock before looking at Melenor and opening his mouth to make some confused protest only to be cut off.
“I will leave the two of you to catch up. Once you are finished you should really think of heading to bed, Lotor. It has been a long day. I will be with Alfor and Honerva if you need me.” She then backed out of the room just as the door closed.
Zarkon reached out half-heartedly but stopped the moment she disappeared. He stared at the door for a moment before shaking his head, determined to talk to her again immediately after he was finished with his son.
Lotor had already turned back to the large viewing window without a word. Leaving his father standing unacknowledged by the door.
This wasn’t how things were supposed to go.
True, he normally encouraged Lotor to not be too over-exuberant when they saw each other again after a long period of time. Especially not in the presence of their subjects or guests. However, this typically only lasted until they were alone wherein Lotor would immediately embrace him and ask him about his trip.
It was an embarrassing thing to admit to himself, but Zarkon greatly looked forward to seeing Lotor again. It pleased him to have someone who was so exuberantly happy to see him. Honerva was always there of course, but although he pretended to disapprove there was something nice about Lotor’s open affection.
That was why Lotor’s sudden coldness was more of a slap to the face then if the boy had shouted.
“Lotor, look at me,” Zarkon tried to speak as gently as possible.
Lotor didn’t turn around right away. He remained staring out at the stars before his shoulders slacked and he stood up and turned to face his father. He didn’t meet Zarkon’s eyes and instead stared at his boots while fiddling with the hem of his tunic.
With a pang, Zarkon realized that his son had grown taller since he’d last seen him. Not that that was particularly shocking given his age. Growth spurts were common around this time. But it disturbed him to see such a drastic change had taken place in his absence.
Zarkon knew the quickest way to resolve this was to apologize. He knew that and yet….
One of them was going to have to speak first. Lotor showed no sign of doing so, and Zarkon was uncertain if he should consider this a sign of good behavior or not. He had taught Lotor to be careful not to speak to his seniors or superiors until he was spoken to, but in this instance he was alone with his father and had yet to give him a proper greeting.
How much easier it would be if Lotor would just say something.
His fingers drifted to the place under his armor where he kept the box he had found. He hesitated. Bribery did work with most children, but if Lotor was anything like his mother then he’d resent the implication that his renewed approval could be bought.
And in many many ways, Lotor was a lot like his mother.
Zarkon lowered his hand. He would need to wait until his son was in a far better mood before making any attempts at a material peace offering. That left him with little choice but to try and apologize some other way.
“I have been told you did well today,” He chose the topic at random, hoping the idle conversation would make speech easier. “Such ceremonious things will be difficult at first, but you shall get used to them.”
Lotor glanced up at him before looking down again, though he did murmur, “‘ank you.”
With a huff, Zarkon began, without thinking.“Do not mutter Lotor. I have told you that numerous-”
He stopped upon seeing Lotor glare at the floor.
“No, I do not mean that. You are tired, of course.”
Lotor nodded but made no further comment.
Zarkon rubbed the back of his neck.
“Son, listen,” he sighed,” I know I have… neglected my duties to you. H-However I need you to understand that the, uh, matter that held me was inescapable. If it had been otherwise, I would have definitely have come sooner.”
He became aware that Lotor was looking at him with a strange expression.
Finally, he spoke, “Father… have you been to the med bay?”
He repeated slowly and more clearly, “Have you been to the medical bay? Here or at home?”
Zarkon’s brow knit in confusion, “I-I do not understand.”
Lotor huffed irritably, “Did you not see a doctor?”
“Why should I-”
“You weren’t hurt then?”
There was an infinitesimal pause before Zarkon responded, “Of course not.”
He resisted the urge to touch his upper arm where the bandages were hidden by their armor. There was no way Lotor could have seen them.
“Why should I be hurt?”
Lotor seemed to struggle to answer. Finally, he said, “Do you and mother think I’m stupid?”
The question shocked Zarkon. He may not have had much faith in his sons combat prowess, but his intelligence could not be denied.
“Why would you possibly-”
“Because you DO!” Lotor snapped.
Zarkon’s mouth dropped open in shock. Lotor had never raised his voice to him.
“Y-You both always assume I will not understand or notice things! You keep secrets, and tell lies, and always always order me around! It-It is not fair-”
“Enough!” Zarkon yelled his anger finally stirring, “You will not speak of your mother and I this way!”
Lotor flinched at his father’s raised voice.
“If you will not speak to me respectfully then return to your room until I call for you.” Zarkon scolded, “At that time you can explain yourself and-” He turned to leave but stopped when his son’s voice drifted over his shoulder and turned his blood cold.
“You weren’t at a meeting.” Lotor’s voice was low and hard. Hitting a tone his father had never heard from him before, “You were fighting.”
Zarkon froze half-way to the door and looked over his shoulder at his son’s almost fearfully. Lotor was endeavoring to appear hard, but still came across as a pouting child with a shaky gaze rather than a stern glare. Nonetheless, it did the trick.
Taking a deep breath, Zarkon asked slowly, “Who told you?”
“No one!” He repeated, “I figured it out on my own! Your long absences always happen right when most of the fleet is gone, and when you come home you always pretend to be okay, but you’re in and out of the med bay all the time. Then you end up with scratches and scars you didn’t have before. It’s OBVIOUS.”
Lotor spat the last word venomously before turning away and angrily muttering, “It is to me anyway.”
Zarkon wasn’t sure what to do. He’d never expected Lotor would actually find out about his and Honerva’s well-meant little fib. His son was intelligent, he knew that. Especially since Alfor and Melenor always laid so much stress on the fact.
Studious, attentive, and observant were the most frequently used terms. Even his dayak had been impressed and tended to boast about him. She’d had mixed opinions about him being sent to study on Altea, but had made no protest.
However, as intelligent as Lotor was, he was still a boy.
A boy who was, perhaps, too smart for his own good.
“I never meant for you to find out this way.” It was a pathetic attempt at reparation but it was all Zarkon could manage, “We-I wanted to wait until you were older.”
“You always say that about everything.” Lotor complained stubbornly, “but I never seem to get old enough.”
Zarkon winced. So he’d noticed that as well? It was almost impressive.
“I see,” he muttered sinking into thought.
Somehow he had hoped that constantly putting questions and events off would lead to Lotor dropping whatever the subject was. At least for a while. However, there was truth in the fact that his son never seemed to be quite old enough for Zarkon.
Not for training. Not for knowing about Zarkon’s business. Not for many things.
“I do not suppose you would accept an apology.”
Lotor’s chilly silence was answer enough.
Sighing, Zarkon closed the distance between them and knelt down in front of his son. In response, Lotor took two small steps back but otherwise held his ground even as his eyes remained focused on the ground. Only the feeling of his father’s fingers against his cheek made him raise his gaze to meet Zarkon’s.
This time Zarkon took a careful half moment to consider things before speaking.
“Lotor, when I was your age, my father was assigned to a fleet.”
The boy's eyes widened slightly. He had never heard his father speak about any member of their family outside of his mother and himself. In fact, while he was well aware that grandparents were a thing people apparently had, he had never really questioned why he didn’t seem to have any.
“Things were different back then. They were darker times. Much darker times.”
Lotor said nothing. He was metaphorically in deep space at this point. His father tended to get vague when he talked about the dark times.
“At the time our-my-... the Galra were at war.”
“Oh, you mean with Nalquod?”
Zarkon hesitated. This would take some delicacy.
“That conflict was ongoing,” he said carefully, “but in this case relatively unrelated.”
“One of the other wars then?”
Zarkon knew he should be proud that his son was so well versed in their people’s history, but at times it resulted in him asking inconvenient questions.
“Did we win?”
Lotor pouted, as he creased his brow struggling to sort through all the history he’d learned.
“How long ago was it? If it was short enough ago to involve grandfather, then it couldn’t have been that long ago.”
“I-ugh, look it does not matter. My point is that your grandfather was a soldier during a war. What war it was, when it took place, who he was fighting, and his specific rank and weapon are not essential to this conversation, understood?”
“Yes, father,” Lotor said disappointed.
“Good,” Zarkon huffed.
He was going to have a hard time avoiding all the nitty gritty details without letting Lotor in on the fact that his grandfather had died in one of the many scuttles the Galra had gotten into with the Alteans. The knowledge that his paternal grandfather had been lost at the hands of his mother’s people was too much to expect Lotor to properly understand at this age. No matter how intelligent the boy seemed.
“During the war, my father had many duties to attend in the fleet. As a result, he was quite frequently… busy.” That wasn’t quite accurate. Indeed old Zeppo had been busy, but his absences were not typically of the ‘trapped in a life and death struggle against a foe’ variety like Zarkon was. However, Lotor didn’t really need to know that. “I took great pride in having a soldier as a father, and would look forward to the rare times I would see him.”
Lotor eyes fell once more. He felt he could already read where this conversation was headed. His father had clearly waited obediently when his own father was gone, and he was now expecting him to do the same.
“I knew where he was stationed and what he was doing there. I was aware, you see, of what was going on.” Zarkon paused before admitting, “I didn’t have a mother. I never really knew her. I still know nothing about her. Without anyone else to look after me, I tended to fend for myself. Make myself useful around the base. It made me… practical about certain things.”
Zarkon tried not to dwell his mind too much on those days. People had not been unkind to him, just a bit cold. His bloodline had always been illusterous amongst the upper class, so it wasn’t as though he was someone others had avoided. However, despite all that he’d still somehow felt like an outsider.
Without a father or mother around to see to the household, Zarkon had seen to most of the ceremonial duties with the aid of a few loyal servants. It was rather like being an orphan in all but name. In fact, if it hadn’t been for the ongoing war loosening the standards of the time, Zarkon was certain he’d have ended up just like Sendak. Just another wartime orphan being raised en masse.
“I was forced to grow up fast. Forced to understand certain things early.” Absentmindedly Zarkon began to caress the hair just above Lotor’s ear as he went on miserably, “I was aware of what was going on outside of the walls of my home. The battles going on, the-the losses that were suffered. I thought about it all the time. It got to the point where I was shocked to see my father return and… and wasn’t when he didn’t.”
Zarkon stopped and focused for a moment on slicking back the loose fragments of his son's hair. He was mostly successful, save for the stray loose strand that always seemed to naturally spring forward unneatly. He stared at the traitorous strand and sighed.
Lotor was looking at him rather worriedly. His earlier notion of how this conversation would go was quite shaken. Concern radiated from his face.
Zarkon paused before continuing, “It had not been a pleasant experience. More or less expecting my father to die. I did not have much peace. Not much of a childhood for that matter. I did not want that for you. I never wanted that for you.”
“But,” Lotor hesitated, clearly trying very hard not to cry when he clearly felt the need to. Zarkon felt he could understand this. He had done much the same thing at Lotor’s age, “but what if you die?”
“I am not going to die,” Zarkon said firmly. “Things are different now. The wars are over. I have my Generals and Commanders as well as my fellow paladins.”
Despite his best efforts, a few tears broke from the corners of Lotor’s eyes. Zarkon discreetly wiped them away.
“And I have the Black Lion and Voltron. I am safer on the field of battle now than any of our people have ever been before. I-we-your mother and I never wanted to needlessly distress you. I wanted you to grow peacefully without anxiously worrying about whether or not I’d return. That is why I kept my duties from you. Do you understand?”
Lotor said nothing in response but sniffed slightly and nodded.
Zarkon resisted the urge to envelop him in his arms at once. Lotor was twelve now. Such drastic displays of affection were becoming unseemly even in private. Instead, he took the opportunity to reach for the box he’d brought.
“Close your eyes,” He instructed.
Lotor looked doubtful but did as his father asked.
Bringing the small box out, he opened it, and gingerly removed the contents.
The thin gossamer-like chain between Zarkon’s massive fingers glinted in the Altean starlight. He couldn’t help but marvel once more at its workmanship, as he slipped it over his son’s head, keeping the emblem that dangled from the chain in his hand.
“You may open your eyes now.”
Lotor peeked open one eye and then the other. He looked down at the chain that lay around his neck, and especially the part that still remained in his father’s palm.
A charm of blackened glossy metal shaped into the emblem of the united Galran people lay in Zarkon’s palm. In its center, a purple gem or crystal blinked up at him from its place deeply embedded in the metal. In the dim light of the room, it almost seemed to glow.
“What is it?” Despite his best efforts to remain indifferent, Lotor couldn’t prevent the excited curiosity that ebbed into his voice.
“Your birthday present,” Zarkon said with an uncharacteristically soft smile. “It is an old treasure of the empire. I thought of you the moment I saw it.”
None of the weapons in the old room had been small enough for Lotor. Besides, only this small trinket had seemed suitable for his sons particular appearance. Naturally, Lotor didn’t need to know that it was quite literally the only thing Zarkon could find that he could conceivably see Lotor actually being able to wear.
“A treasure? What kind of treasure?” Lotor asked him with a sudden level of interest.
“A, uh… very special treasure.”
He knew it had to be something of value to the Emperors of old. Otherwise, it would not have been kept amongst all the ancient weapons and armor that were so essential in the wars of long past. However, precisely why this particular little trinket should be in such a place of high honor, Zarkon could not say.
However, he was hardly going to admit the fact to his own son.
“Regardless, I am entrusting it to you.” he said instead, “To commemorate your Altean coming of age.”
He let go of the emblem and let it hang from Lotor’s neck. The chain was far too long for Lotor’s skinny neck and small frame, and it dangled almost all the way down to his belly button. With time, Zarkon hoped, it would come to fit him better.
“Consider this a marker of you as my heir.” Zarkon said drawing on a spur of the moment inspiration, “As long as you have this, no one may question that. So take excellent care of it.”
Lotor held it in both his hands, staring down at it with a small smile on his face, “I will father. I promise.” He frowned again before adding, “If… If you make a promise too.”
“And what would that be?”
“If-If I’m going to be your heir, then you can’t keep hiding stuff from me. I’m not a little kid anymore! So you have to promise me,” Lotor enveloped the emblem in both his hands meaningfully, “No more secrets. Do you promise?”
Zarkon stared down at his son.
It was true that he could no longer shield Lotor from everything as he once had. Soon, very soon, he would have to allow him to begin combat training. His father could hardly be expected to always be there to protect him from danger. Besides, if Lotor didn’t get his proper training the other Galra would never let him hear the end of it.
He was going to have to start treating Lotor less like his son and more like a Prince.
It should have been easy to make such a simple promise.
However, there were… complications. Things that, no matter how much Lotor grew, Zarkon didn’t think he could ever tell him. His son was still young. Sooner or later he’d learn that some truths were better left unknown.
“I can promise that from here on out, I will no longer keep such drastic things from you.” he spoke making sure to carefully choose his words.
“And-” Lotor started but hesitated.
“A-and I… I wanna,” Lotor swallowed and finished feebly, “I wanna… go home.”
Zarkon blinked, “But I thought you preferred Altea?”
Lotor shifted a bit uncomfortably. It was true that Altea was very different from Daibazaal. The stars were clearer at night, the grasslands were covered with more flowers than Lotor had ever seen, and the Alteans were a lot easier for Lotor to get along with than most of the Galra in his father’s court.
But it wasn’t home.
“I-I like it a lot. King Alfor’s awfully nice to me, and I like being able to play with Allura whenever we can.” He blushed, a little embarrassed, “But I never get to see any of you anymore. Not you, mother, Dayak, or even Sendak. I never get to see any of you.”
Zarkon stood back up to his full height and stared over Lotor’s head and out the window. There was confliction in his eyes.
His gaze settled back onto Lotor, and he seemed to make a decision.
“I shall have to speak to your mother. As well as King Alfor and Queen Melenor.” Zarkon absentmindedly reached down and placed one hand atop Lotor’s head, “It may take a little while to arrange, but for the moment I can see no reason to not fulfill your request.”
Lotor broke into a huge grin and immediately dove forward and hugged his father around his waist, burying his face into his side.
“Thank you, father! Thank you so much!”
Zarkon couldn’t help but let a chuckle slip, “Happy Birthday, my Prince.”