There was enough room in the cruiser to pace, Lotor sure to take advantage of that fact, walking the length of the cruiser over and over again. Metal benches were pressed against the sides of the cruiser, several soldiers, all female relaxing in their seats. Near the very rear of the cruiser, Sabbath and Romelle sat together, and though their behavior wasn’t exactly what Lotor would describe as lovey dovey, they were clearly enjoying each other’s company.
At least, as much as they could given their current circumstances. There was an air of tension that surrounded them, Romelle looking worried. She kept snuggled against Sabbath’s side, arms wound possessively around his waist. Sabbath looked as though he wanted to smile but did not dare, the situation far too serious given what he had done. But Romelle had yet to deviate from her story of leaving the castle willingly with the Drule, telling any and all who would listen that Sabbath had not taken her against her will.
The love birds weren’t doing much talking, save for a few whispered words from Romelle. She didn’t seem to realize how sharp a Drule’s hearing was, Lotor picking up her words, hearing her telling Sabbath the story they should stick to. None of the Drules called them out on it, Lotor putting on a show of being oblivious to Romelle’s plannings.
“We’re almost to the castle.” Lotor said, coming to sit next to the mated pair. Romelle had lost much of her color during the ride through the kingdom, her worry eating away at her. Lotor hardly put her at ease, his words stern. “I hope you’re prepared. There will be a lot of explaining to do on your part.”
“I’m ready.” Romelle insisted, the cruiser beginning the drive up the incline that led to the castle’s front gates. At the speed they were going, it wouldn’t even take five minutes to reach their destination.
“We both are.” Sabbath said, gazing seriously at Lotor. The prince hoped that was the truth, knowing the pair would need all the strength and skill to deal with the fall out of their adventure.
The castle loomed closer, and Lotor could spy a crowd of people waiting. He wasn’t surprised, he had after all taken the time to radio ahead, informing his mate Allura that her cousin had been found. There hadn’t been much time to talk with her, nor did he trust to give full disclosure on an unsecured line, Lotor not wanting to tell her exactly what Romelle was doing. It left the outcome a surprise to Allura, and he couldn’t wait to see the expression on her face when she saw Romelle defending Sabbath.
The cruiser slowed to a halt, and the vehicles that accompanied theirs, pulled up beside it. They parked just before the castle’s moat, and the soldiers were already opening the side ramp before the cruiser’s engines had died down completely.
“Come.” Lotor said, rising from the bench. Romelle’s nervous look seemed to grow, Sabbath patting her hand comfortingly.
“I’m here…” He whispered to her, and she nodded. They followed Lotor off the cruiser, the waiting reception of people already hurrying across the moat’s bridge. It was quite a crowd, made not just of soldiers, but of the various servants and denizens of the castle. Their faces were all anxious, they didn’t seem ready to believe their missing princess was all right.
“There she is!” Nanny’s voice was crying out, the woman pushing to the head of the crowd. Coran was besides her, and Allura was also hurrying forward, looking almost as worried as her cousin was. “Oh thank goodness you’re back!”
Lotor and the Drules had paused, but as the crowd drew near, the prince gave a command. A large group of the Drule soldiers moved to take command of the group, attempting to do crowd control. Lotor had a feeling they’d need it, the people liable to riot when they heard Romelle’s version of what had happened.
And still the Drules did not succeed in holding back Nanny, the woman sneaking forward when they allowed Coran and Allura to pass. Nanny kept in the lead, and with a dramatic gesture of her arm, bellowed out an order of her own.
“Arrest that man!”
The human soldiers were ready to comply, trying to get past the immovable Drules. When they realized the Drules were purposefully stopping them from doing their jobs, they began to grumble, demanding passage. No one had begun fighting, not yet at least, and it was thanks to Allura who thought enough to give her own order.
“Everyone stand down.”
“Stand down?!” Nanny cried in disbelief, whirling to stare at Allura. She wasn’t content to let the guards relax, and many of them were still tense, preparing for the confrontation to turn nasty. “Are you out of your mind?! They should be taking that kidnapper into custody! And if the rest of these savages try to stop us, then they can rot in the dungeons too!”
“Nanny, don’t make things even worse than they are.” Coran advised, over the grumbles of the crowd. The humans didn’t understand why Sabbath wasn’t being arrested, and Lotor wondered just how far the Drules had fallen in their eyes. He hoped Romelle’s story would appease them, but more than that, he wanted things to go back to the way they had been, with the humans and Drules getting along for the most part.
“It is not I who is causing problems!” Nanny snapped, her hands on her hips as she turned to glare at Lotor. And then she was gazing past him, towards where Romelle and Sabbath stood. Lotor wondered what she saw, his back to the pair, unable to know if Romelle still clung to Sabbath’s arm.
“Princess Romelle….come here…” Nanny tried to soften her voice in an attempt to coax the princess to her side.
“Cousin?” Allura was gazing curiously in Romelle’s direction, and now Lotor turned, in time to see the princess shaking her head no.
“I’m fine where I am.” Romelle said, standing next to Sabbath. She had forced herself to let go of his arm, but still stood close enough that their bodies touched.
“What do you mean you’re fine?” Nanny demanded, frown lines creasing on her face. “As long as you’re near that kidnapper, you’re in danger!”
“He didn’t kidnap me.” Romelle stated, and the crowd seemed to gasp, several people breaking out into excited chatter. Others quickly shushed them, not wanting the conversation drowned out.
“What? Of course he did!” Nanny exclaimed, even as Romelle was shaking her head no. “We all saw how he manhandled you out of the ball room. He took you Romelle, kept you for days on end….”
“He did not kidnap me.” Romelle repeated, voice firm. “Yes, we had an argument at the reception, but it was just a misunderstanding. It’s all been nothing but one misunderstanding after another.”
“What do you mean?” Allura asked, face still so worried. If Lotor hadn’t felt secure in his own mating, he would have been jealous by the concern Allura was showing for Sabbath.
“Yes, princess, please explain.” Coran added his voice to the conversation, Romelle drawing in a deep breath as though gathering her courage.
“I wanted….needed to get away for a while. We both did.” She glanced at Sabbath, whose expression was stoic. “We had things that needed to be discussed, we needed the time alone together. To bond.”
Most of the humans did not understanding what bonding meant to a Drule, but Allura did, her eyes widening in shock. “Romelle, what are you saying…?”
Nanny didn’t give the princess time to answer her cousin’s question, the woman taking a step forward. “He’s addled your mind, that’s what he’s done! Making you say these things, these lies….did he threaten you? Child, you don’t have to be scared anymore. We will protect you.”
“I don’t need protecting!” Romelle snapped, seeming annoyed. “Not from Sabbath at least.”
“I think you do.” Insisted Nanny, and Romelle sighed.
“Oh Nanny, no. You’re wrong. Wrong about everything!” That made Nanny frown, Romelle continuing. “I don’t want any charges pressed against Sabbath. I don’t even want anyone to so much as give him an angry look, it….it wasn’t his idea that we go away. It was mine. This whole fiasco is my fault. If anyone is to blame, it’s me!”
“Romelle!” Sabbath made her name a protest, Romelle shaking her head no at him.
“You know it is.” She said, then turned her attention back to the others. “I know you don’t understand….maybe you won’t even want to. But….Sabbath and I….there’s a connection there…”
“Connection?” Nanny had gone pale. and seemed to stagger back a step when Romelle nodded.
“Yes.” Romelle suddenly smiled, affection in that expression and aimed Sabbath’s way. “We…we’ve bonded. In a way similar to what Lotor and my cousin have.”
“No!” Nanny suddenly shrieked, and Coran winced.
“Nanny, calm yourself!”
“But Coran…she’s talking nonsense! She’s just been through a stressful ordeal….she doesn’t know, can’t know what she is saying!”
“Oh but I can!” insisted Romelle, and Sabbath voiced his own agreement.
“She knows her own mind. She knows what she wants and who.”
“Don’t you speak! Don’t you dare!” hissed Nanny, and Romelle turned furious.
“Don’t tell him to shut up!”
“Everyone calm down.” Lotor suggested, but was ignored, which caused him to sigh. Allura shared a sympathetic look with him as Nanny geared up to have a fit.
“What happened to you princess?!” Nanny demanded, hands forming fists on her hips. “Why are you defending him?! Why are you lying for him?!”
“I am not lying!” Romelle cried out, words laced with her strong conviction. “Why can’t you believe me?!”
“Because I know you!” Nanny retorted. “You would never willingly go off with a strange man, let alone a Drule!”
“Then maybe you don’t know me as well as you think!” Romelle said stiffly. “I’ll tell you again, it was my idea to go off with Sabbath. If you want to blame someone, blame me!”
Nanny drew in a breath, locking eyes with Romelle. Lotor wasn’t sure what to make of the expression on the older woman’s face, but knew no good would come out of whatever she would say next.
“Oh where did I go wrong with you girls?!” Nanny suddenly cried, frustrated and upset. “I thought I raised you both better than this!”
“Do not start making Allura feel as if she did something wrong in falling in love with me!” snarled Lotor, feeling the first signs of rage flare to life within him. He would not stand for Nanny making Allura feel as if she was less for marrying a Drule.
“This isn’t the place for this conversation.” Coran decided, noting the silent crowd who was eating up the exchange.
“That we can agree upon.” Lotor said, eager to get inside the castle, away from prying eyes and listening ears. But Nanny was rooted to the spot, eyes glinting with her upset.
“Just wait until your father hears about this!” Nanny seemed almost triumphant then, an angry smile on her face. “He’ll make you see reason!”
“My father…” Romelle’s voice was soft, unsure before she drew on her inner strength, taking Sabbath’s arm. “Let him come.” She seemed to be goading Nanny on now, clinging to Sabbath possessively. “There’s nothing he can say or do to stop this!”
“This? What is THIS?!” Nanny demanded, tone scoffing.
“We’re a mated pair!” Romelle announced, even as Allura tried to keep her from speaking in front of the crowd. Lotor noted the shocked pleasure that filled Sabbath’s eyes at Romelle’s words, a smile turning the corners of his mouth upwards. “You know what that means, don’t you? It means we’re MARRIED according to Drule customs.”
Nanny turned an interesting shade of red, her mouth falling open in shock. Save for a few wordless sputters, she couldn’t talk, and she seemed very close to falling, swaying back and forth on her feet. Coran quickly took her arm, ready to support her should she swoon.
“Come Nanny.” He said, voice just loud enough to be heard over the excited chatter of the crowd. “Let us go inside, and I’ll fix you some tea.” Nanny couldn’t even protest this, just nodding dumbly, allowing Coran to turn her and lead her back across the draw bridge. The human soldiers began thinning the crowd to clear a path for the pair, Allura walking towards Lotor.
“Is it true?” Allura asked, voice soft, eyes hopeful. “Are you really mates?”
“I wouldn’t say it if it wasn’t true!” Romelle replied, not letting go of the smiling Sabbath.
“When…” She seemed to think better of what she was about to say, Allura shaking her head no. “HOW did this happen?” Romelle gave a shrug of her shoulders, her reply airy.
“Who knows how or why the workings of the heart do what they do. What matters is we’re in love, and want to be together. Right Sabbath?” She glanced at him, but really didn’t need the confirmation, Sabbath outright grinning in his happiness.
“This is wonderful!” Allura exclaimed, clasping her hands together. “Oh, we’ll have to plan a wedding. You’ll make a beautiful bride!”
“Before we start making plans…” Lotor began, knowing his words would not go over well. “Shouldn’t we prepare for the encounter with Romelle’s father? Nanny seemed to think the King wouldn’t take this news very well.”
“There’s no telling how he’ll react.” Agreed Allura, and her excitement had lessened. “Especially once Nanny gets through telling him her view of the situation.”
“Then we keep those two apart.” Decided Lotor, and both princesses exchanged looks. “What?”
“It won’t be that easy.” Romelle said with a sigh. “Especially if Nanny is determined to interfere.”
“We could always lock her up.” Lotor said, only half joking.
“Lotor no!” protested Allura.
“I thought it a good idea.” Sabbath rumbled in Drule to Lotor.
“What IS the situation?” Romelle asked. “I mean…what does my father know?”
“Right now? Nothing really.” Allura told her. “We never even told him you were missing, and I assume none of the people in the castle snuck a call to him since he never contacted us, or sent people to join in the search.”
“Then he doesn’t know…” Romelle was relieved. “He’ll be angry I left with Sabbath, but at least he won’t harbor the anger and fear of thinking I had been kidnapped.” She seemed to shiver then, Sabbath hugging her. “It’ll be hard enough making him understand my, our feelings as it is.”
“I’ll help you!” Smiled Allura. “If he and your brothers would just give Sabbath a chance, I’m sure they’d see what a good person he is.” Lotor kept quiet, doubting that they would be easy to win over.
“I’m sorry we made you worry.” Romelle added softly.
“As am I.” stated Sabbath.
“You needed that time…..yes I was upset and worried for you, for both of you. But I’m glad it’s all working out for you.”
“Be careful!” Lotor warned her. “Let’s not jinx anything with that kind of talk.”
“Lotor, I didn’t know you were superstitious.” Allura was surprised, and he shrugged.
“I’m usually not. But Sabbath and Romelle’s road to finding each other was fraught with difficulty. And still is…”
“We won’t let anyone keep us apart.” Romelle said to that. “I refuse to let anyone, even my own blood interfere.”
“You shouldn’t turn your back on your family though.” Sabbath protested, and Romelle glanced up at him.
“I won’t. But…” And she looked equal parts sad and worried now. “But I may not have a choice in the matter. If they make me choose….”
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves with those kind of fears…” Allura suggest, as Sabbath began stroking Romelle’s hair. “We can’t know the future or their reactions until it happens.”
“Good point.” Lotor said, and noticed one of the castle servants approaching them. “Yes?”
“I bring a message from Coran.” The man said, bowing to the three royals. “He wants you to come to his office at your earliest convenience. He’s eager to know the details of just what went on between the princess and Sabbath.”
“We’ll be there shortly.” Romelle said, and sighed after the servant had left them alone. “I’m not looking forward to his interrogation.”
“We’ll get through it.” Sabbath was confidant, still petting Romelle’s hair. “And we’ll get through it together.”
“Hey it won’t just be you two!” Allura interjected herself into their private moment. “Lotor and I will be there to lend you support.”
“Thanks cousin.” Romelle smiled at her. “Well…no sense in putting it off any longer. Let’s go.”
Taking Allura’s arm, Lotor led them across the bridge, the crowd almost gone except for a few people who still lingered. A few of them called out to the group, asking if Romelle was okay, and if she really was married to the Drule. Romelle assured them that she was on both accounts, the people reacting with surprise over the last one. Lotor hoped the castle gossips were already spreading the word, hoping that with the talk would come the reacceptance of the Drules. There had been a lot of damage done to Drule human relations, but if the people could see how Romelle had gotten over her own mistrust and fears to love Sabbath, then they would follow suit in trusting the Drule once more. And with that trust, they could get back to work on preparing for war, Lotor hoping the combination of Drule and human would prove an unstoppable force.