The guards had taken her to another part of the castle, the rooms located to the back of the castle’s kitchen, Allura quick to realize this was the servant’s quarters. The rooms were smaller here, cramped spaces with paper thin walls that afforded little privacy to the occupants. Allura noticed some of the servants Lotor had brought with him from Doom entering and exiting the rooms, their faces startled at the sight of the two guards that accompanied her to this dismal place.
The guards moved with a purpose, leading her towards a room that was at the far end of the hall. They didn’t bother to knock on the door, the one guard unlocking it as the other Drule held onto Allura’s arm. She ignored the tight grip he used on her, Allura not intending to give the guard any excuse to get rougher with her. She was meek and obedient, trying not to show her impatience as the door was opened.
Sound filtered out into the hall, women laughing, sharing some kind of private joke. Allura peered inside, seeing the ten women Lotor had brought from Doom lounging about on the furniture. There was no windows in this room, the women here were under no illusions that they were prisoners, though they didn’t seem to mind. What did upset them however, was the sight of Allura standing in the doorway, their voices growing hushed as they stared at her.
Allura shifted, suddenly conscious of how differently she was garbed next to these women, catching sight of a few envious looks at her plain nightgown. A few more seconds of silence, and then the whispers started, women nudging each other, nodding in Allura’s direction.
It made her want to turn around and leave, Allura hesitating on the threshold when the guard gave her a push into the room. She stumbled forward, hearing the door slam shut behind her, lock clicking into place. She actually turned to look at the door, eager to escape the looks she was receiving. She touched the wood, trying to nerve herself to turn around, whispering to herself, “I can do this.”
Making her expression blank, Allura turned back towards the women, eyes searching through the crowd. Romelle had to be among them, Lotor’s men would not have brought her here by mistake. She counted out the bodies in her mind, noting there was one more, sitting all the way in the rear of the room, body resting on the carpeted floor. Her knees were pulled against her chest, arms hugging around them as she buried her face against her legs. She seemed oblivious to the noise around her, not caring to lift her head to see what had caused the change of atmosphere in the room.
Allura’s heart went out to her cousin, seeing how she curled up on herself, the pose reminiscent of one Allura herself had used. Her whole body language was tense, Romelle not wanting anyone to notice her as she sat huddled in the darkest corner of the room. It was a blessing that the other harem girls kept their distance, the women content to ignore Romelle as much as she ignored them.
Compassion in her heart, Allura stepped forward, her eyes on her cousin. The women of the harem were still watching Allura’s every move, and when they realized she meant to approach the girl in the corner they shuffled out of the way. It left Allura a clear pathway to Romelle, the princess of Arus cautious as she stepped past the harem slaves. She tried not to show her hesitation, alert should anyone try to attack her as she walked by.
She was relieved to reach Romelle’s side unmolested, the women glaring but not making a move towards Allura. She decided to ignore them as best she could, pretending she wasn’t aware of how they stared as she approached her cousin.
“Romelle? It’s me….Allura.” The blonde didn’t even look up, showing no sign of interest in her visitor. Allura frowned, looking down at her cousin, noticing the way she had begun to rock herself in place. A back and forth motion that set alarm bells ringing in Allura’s mind, the princess disturbed to hear her cousin whimpering.
“Romelle…” Allura knelt down next to her, eyes studying her carefully. Romelle was dressed in the purple and green garb of a harem girl, her skin covered in goose bumps as she shivered. It made Allura cold just looking at her, the girl wishing she had a shawl or something to cover her cousin with. “I know it’s hard….the harem is so different from what you have known all your life…..but….”
But what? Allura paused, unsure of what to say. There was no bright side to the matter, no positive words she could offer the older girl. “Please Romelle….don’t cry…” Allura risked touching her bare shoulder, feeling the tremors in Romelle’s body. “If you keep doing that….I’ll cry too…”
Romelle merely whimpered in response, a loud sniffle accompanying that sound. Allura sighed, her hand doing a rubbing motion on Romelle’s upper back, the girl reacting to the touch. She actually turned, cuddling up to Allura’s side, an arm going across Allura’s waist as she rested her wet face against Allura’s bosom. Allura settled back on her knees, holding her sobbing cousin, her hands continuing their rubbing motions.
She looked her over as she held her, Allura looking for signs of abuse on her cousin’s body. Aside from a few bruises from where the guards had gripped her too tightly, she seemed okay, Allura holding back a sigh when she noticed it. On the back of Romelle’s right hand, an ugly blight, bright red hinting at the infection that was setting into the wound. The horrendous skull tattoo seemed to leer at Allura, eyes malevolent and mocking.
Allura knew that tattoo only too well, she bore one on the bottom of her foot, a shame that she could never, ever escape. The slaver’s brand, ready to accompany her wherever she went, always serving as a reminder of her fate. Her face crumpled to see it on Romelle, Allura praying her cousin had been unconscious when they put the heated metal to her skin.
“Oh Romelle…” Allura whispered, hugging her cousin tighter. “I am so, so sorry!”
Her words seemed to bring a change over her cousin, Romelle’s body stiffening, her voice coming out husky from crying. “Sorry?” Slowly her head lifted, Allura catching sight of dark blue eyes that held a glassy sheen to them. They had drugged her cousin, realized Allura, perhaps some kind of sedative to keep her under control during the branding. “You’re sorry?!”
“Yes…” Allura nodded, not understanding the animosity she heard in Romelle’s voice. “I wish I…”
“What?!” demanded Romelle, beginning to struggle against Allura. Her actions were sluggish, the drugs making her weak and slow. “Do you wish you could have been there?!”
“I..” Allura hesitated, not sure she would have wanted to witness the branding of her cousin. “If only to lend you my support in your time of need.”
“Support?! Ha!” Scoffed Romelle, getting free of Allura’s embrace. She backed away until she hit the wall, hands sliding across the smooth surface. “You…you…I spit on your support! As if I would ever want anything from you!”
Allura gaped at her, jaw dropping open in shock. “Romelle, what?!”
“I hate you.” Romelle hissed, hands scrabbling along the wall looking for purchase as she tried to stand. Allura reached to help her woozy cousin, the girl screeching like a wild animal as she batted her hands away. “Don’t touch me! Don’t ever touch me again! I despise you….!”
“Romelle, you don’t mean that!” protested Allura, standing when Romelle did. “You’re just upset, confused over what has happened.”
“Damn right I am upset!” Her words were slurred, but no less coherent as Romelle hissed. “My brothers are dead. Dead, do you understand?! My people tortured, enslaved and killed, Doom soldiers running rampant on my planet. And it’s all because of you!”
“No….!” denied Allura, giving a vigorous shake of her head no.
“Yes.” Romelle leaned against the wall, her dull eyes glaring at Allura. “Are you happy with yourself?! Are you proud? You should be, you know!” Allura gaped at Romelle, not knowing what to say. “It’s not every day Pollux lowers it’s shield to let in the enemy.” A bitter laugh, nasty and high pitched as Romelle’s face twisted into a sneer. “Avok loved you. He wanted the best for you, wanted to save you! And so he brokered a deal with that devil Zarkon! A deal for you! And you spit on his memory!”
“No! I do not!” Allura protested. “Romelle, I don’t understand what you are saying. I loved Avok, I still do…I hold the memory of him in the highest regard, cherishing each and every moment I spent with him.”
“Ha! I see how you cherish him and his memory. Sleeping with the man who murdered him!” Romelle’s words had Allura gasping, her eyes widening in understanding.
“Romelle no! You misunderstand. I don’t lie willingly with that man.” Allura tried to explain, taking a step closer to Romelle. “It’s been force every time.”
“You sounded willing enough to my ears.” Romelle retorted, flattening herself against the wall, a clear sign of her dislike of Allura’s approach. “I saw you! You were enjoying yourself!”
Allura turned red in embarrassment, shame filling her as she realized she had been enjoying the reactions Lotor forced her body to feel. Self doubt crept it’s way inside her, Allura shaking her head no in denial. “Romelle….no. It’s not like that.”
“Then how is it?” Romelle demanded.
“I’m a prisoner as much as you are.” Her tone was urgent, Allura trying to get Romelle to understand. “I am tormented daily, Lotor forces himself on me each and every time. I have no choice in the matter, it is all him!”
“Lotor? LOTOR!!” Romelle shrieked out the prince’s name, and suddenly her hand was flying forward, a weak wristed slap landing on Allura’s cheek. The princess of Arus was more stunned by Romelle’s action than the blow, staring at her cousin in shock. “Do you hear yourself?! Speaking his name so casually, as though you had a relationship with him.”
“Are you even listening to the words I am saying?” Allura demanded, blinking back tears. “I tell you he rapes me daily, and all you can focus on is that I used his name rather than an honorific.”
“That’s not all I am basing it on.” Romelle gave a haughty toss of her head, blonde hair bouncing. “The other girls have been filling me in.”
“I didn’t realize you spoke Drule.” Allura said, fighting not to turn and glare accusingly at the gathered harem slaves.
“I don’t. But fortunately for me, Nubeya does.” A smirk then, Romelle naming one of the women. “Nubeya is originally from one of the colonies Pollux set up in the nearest star cluster. She has been most helpful in informing me on what has been going on since you were brought to the prince’s care.”
“It’s all lies. They hate me…they want you to hate me too!” Allura said sadly.
“From what I hear, it’s with good reason they hate you.” Romelle was smug now, starting to pace along the floor, Allura turning to keep an eye on her cousin. “You’ve worked your wiles on the prince, stolen him away all for yourself.”
“No!” gasped Allura, seeing Romelle whip about in agitation.
“No other slave has been with him since arriving on this planet. He favors you Allura, he allows you to be by his side throughout the night and the day.”
“That’s nothing to envy!” Allura protested, seeing Romelle raise an accusing finger at her. That hand shook, her cousin still suffering the effects of the drugs.
“Look around you Allura, you’ve earned everyone’s jealousy with the way you seduced him. Do not try to deny it, not when you come to me clad in his gift to you!” Allura paled, touching the front of her nightgown, realizing it set her further apart from the other women. “Tell me Allura, did you ever feel anything for my brother, or was it all just a marriage of convenience for you?”
Before she could stop herself, she had stepped forward, a resounding smack accompanying her actions. Romelle was left blinking at Allura in shock, Allura’s hand raised and shaking from the force she had used in slapping her cousin. “I LOVE Avok. If you can’t see that, then you are the one who is the real fool here.”
Romelle was still staring at her, silent for the moment so Allura continued. “I know you blame me….hell, right now I blame myself too. Avok wanted to save me…I wanted to be saved….but you must understand, not at the cost of his life. Not his, not Bandor’s, not the people of Pollux. I wanted none of this, I did not want your planet to fall and be enslaved like mine was!”
“I don’t believe you.” Romelle said at last, still rubbing her sore cheek.
“I know you don’t.” Allura sighed. “You are too angry right now. Perhaps I should have given you time before coming to see you. It’s…it’s too soon. The pain is too deep. I realize that now.”
“You know nothing of my pain!” hissed Romelle. “I will never, ever get over what you have done. Do not come to me asking for forgiveness, because you shall not have it! Not from me, and not from my people!” She took a step forward, eyes blazing, all hints of the drug seeming to be pushed back by her exhilaration. “You killed Avok and Bandor, just as surely as if you had slit their throats yourself. Oh, your LOVER may have done the dirty work for you, but it’s your fault.”
“Stop it.” Allura cried out, fighting the urge to cover her ears. “Stop blaming me….Or tell me how I can make amends. Choose one, but stop placing this burden on my shoulders. I can’t bear it.”
“Good.” She smirked, looking pleased. “I want you to squirm, like a worm on a fish hook. I want you to know true agony and misery, want you to spend every day with regret in your heart and tears in your eyes. And then…”
“And then what? Then will you forgive me?” Allura asked, her voice a soft whisper. She felt the disappointment flare to life at Romelle’s head shake.
“Oh no. Forgiveness is one thing I can’t grant you. WON’T grant you. No one from Pollux will.” She actually laughed then, Romelle flashing her teeth at Allura. “And then when you are at your lowest…I will see that you fall even further from grace…” Allura stared at her, wondering how much worse things could get. “Everything you value, everything you love and care for, I will see it all taken from you.”
“But I have nothing left…” whispered Allura.
“You have more than you think.” At Allura’s uncomrpehending look, Romelle sighed, her tone nasty as she explained. “Your prince, Allura. Your beloved crown prince of Doom….I will take him from you.”
Allura’s eyes went wide, and she couldn’t help herself. She laughed. “If you want him, you can have him!”
“Stop it! Stop that infernal laughing!” shrieked Romelle. “How dare you mock me and my ambitions! I’ll do it Allura! I’ll win Lotor’s heart from you!”
“He has no heart…” Allura was gasping in between her laughter, sides hurting from how hard she giggled. “He knows nothing of love, and has none, least of all for me.”
“You lie!” Romelle accused. “You think to fool me in order to keep him to yourself! You don’t want to give him up!”
“Romelle, listen to me. I know you do not want to hear anything I’ve said this day, at the very least take note of this. I do not want him, his love, or anything to do with Prince Lotor. And if you’re smart, you’ll not want his attentions either!”
“It’s funny, that’s the same thing I said to Avok before he contacted King Zarkon.” A snide smile from Romelle, but her eyes showed her frustration. “I begged him not to deal with Doom. I begged him to forget all about you. Even his advisors felt the same, knew the risk was too great. My brother was a fool, you made him that way!”
“He was no fool….though it was unwise of him to deal with Doom.” Allura sighed. “I feel my life has been enriched to have known Avok…to have known his love…”
“A love he surely regretted when your lover was cutting his throat.” Romelle retorted. “How he must have despised you. I bet he wished he never laid eyes on you.”
“That’s not true!” Allura protested, her heart hurting at the thought of Avok hating her so strongly.
“It is because I say it is!” Romelle said.
“No! Avok loved me! Avok…” Allura’s words cut off with a scream, Romelle lunging at her. Her cousin slammed into Allura, knocking her off her feet, and down onto the floor. Romelle sat up on top of Allura, her hands reaching for her neck, the harem girls letting out excited cheers. They didn’t move to stop Romelle, nor did they come to her aid, merely watching as the two cousins did battle.
Their shouts alerted the guards, the two Drules rushing into the room before Romelle could do more than leave Allura dazed. Romelle was lifted up off of Allura. screaming incoherently, kicking out her legs and jerking on her arms. Allura sat up, her hands at her throat, rubbing it as she winced and stared at her incensed cousin. She was practically frothing at the mouth, fighting against the guard, trying to get to Allura.
“Romelle, stop!” Allura pleaded with her, Romelle letting out enraged shrieks. “You don’t want to make the guards angry!” But her cousin didn’t heed her words, clawing at the arm around her waist. The one guard raised his hand, backhanding Romelle across her face, leaving her stunned, even as Allura shrieked angrily in Drule. “Don’t hurt her!”
She was ignored, another man rushing into the room, reaching for something in his pocket. A long needle came out, filled with a vicious green liquid, the guards trying to hold Romelle still as the man reached for her arm. He injected her with the drug, it’s effects almost immediate as Romelle’s eyes rolled up in her head, the woman slumping downwards.
The guard unceremoniously dumped her on the floor, stepping over Romelle’s prone figure. “Romelle?” Allura called out her name, taking a step in her cousin’s direction.
“Visit over.” The other guard had grabbed Allura’s wrist, preventing her from going to the woman.
“Please…” Allura twisted, trying to pull her hand out of his grip. “Let me just check to see if she’s all right.”
“Come!” The guard said, jerking her towards him. Allura hesitated, glancing over her shoulder, seeing the slave Nubeya crouch down besides the princess of Pollux. She shifted Romelle onto her lap, letting the woman rest her head on her legs. Romelle’s eyes were closed, a hint of drool glistening on the corner of her mouth, Nubeya wiping at it with a tissue.
She waited until they pulled her out into the hall, the guards locking the door behind them, before she burst into tears. The guards exchanged looks, as though to blame each other for her weeping. Sniffling to herself, Allura allowed them to lead her back to the bedchamber Lotor had appointed for himself. She wasn’t even thinking clearly, thoughts of having to pay Lotor’s price for this little visit the farthest thing from her mind…..