Songbird 03

I  wouldn’t get a chance to actually meet Romelle until much later in the day. Lotor was intent on monopolizing her attention, the prince a shameless flirt. Especially when he was as determined to get a woman into bed as he was with Romelle! I wasn’t the only one who had noticed Lotor’s interest in the Polluxian princess, another betting pool had started, people trying to guess just how long it would take Lotor to wear down her resistance, and if he would tire of the chase and just take what he wanted from her.

Truthfully, I felt it could go either way. And all because of Romelle’s resemblance to Allura. That surely elevated her in Lotor’s eyes, as evidenced by his behavior in the arena. He had allowed this princess to distract him, to cause him defeat, and earn the disappointment of his father. And yet he shrugged it all off, simply because she looked like his beloved princess of Arus.

Some part of me actually hoped this Romelle could do more than distract Lotor from his obsession with Allura of Arus. That she could ease him past it, that obsession that hadn’t yet started to spiral out of control. When I look back, I can see now that Lotor had already lost his mind to lust for Allura. They had only had three encounters before Romelle entered the picture, and yet those meetings had been enough to spark some deep rooted feeling that was too twisted to truly call love.

But I am getting ahead of myself. There was still time before obsession ran it’s course, before Lotor’s lust and anger led him to do violent and despicable things. I still had to meet Romelle, meet the woman who would soon have so much riding on her slim shoulders.

I encounter the pair on my way to one of Zarkon’s banquets. Our King was celebrating the alliance with Pollux, by treating us all to a celebratory feast. It was rare for Zarkon to hold a party of any kind, in the three weeks I had been on Doom, there had been only one. That had been to celebrate Lotor’s return, and the many triumphs the prince had had over Doom’s enemies.

Since that time, Zarkon had grown angry with the prince’s failures against Voltron. What point was there to a party when Doom had nothing to celebrate? Zarkon would just see it as a waste of resources, even if parties helped boost people’s morales.

It was a pleasant surprise, this banquet, and I found myself looking forward to the chance to relax. My pockets were heavier from the bet I had won, and I was betting I would be able to charm some Drule female into my bed before the night was through. I dare say a spring was in my step, even if I didn’t feel much hope for Avok’s future, and the impending fight with Voltron.

“Sabbath!” Lotor’s voice called out to me, I immediately turned. The prince was walking towards me, a smirk on his face as he escorted the princess through the castle. She had her hand on his arm, and she was smiling, although the expression was slight. I wondered what she had seen to keep her from displaying that radiant smile she had worn in the arena, and knew there wasn’t much in the castle that was fit for a human to see.

“Prince Lotor.” I did a slight bow to him, letting my gaze drift to Romelle. Lotor took the hint, bringing Romelle closer to me so that I could grasp her hand in mine.

“This is the Princess Romelle. King Cova’s daughter.”

“A pleasure.” I said, raising her hand so that I could press a kiss across her knuckles.

“And this is?” Romelle asked once I let go of her hand.

“Ah this is commander Sabbath. A good man, a good friend of mine.” Explained Lotor, a fond look in his eyes as he looked at me.

“Oh, will you be coming with us to Pollux?” The curious princess asked.

“If my prince will allow it.” I answered, glancing back at Lotor. He looked amused, nodding his head.

“I wouldn’t have you miss it for the world.” He gestured then for me to walk with them, the three of us heading for the room that had been designated to hold the feast. Our conversation did not idle, I was curious about this Romelle, and especially about her interactions with my prince.

“Have you been touring the castle all this time?” I asked her, and she allowed a small nod.

“Oh yes.” Her eyes briefly lowered, hiding her feelings behind the lids. “Your prince has been showing me all the sights…”

“ALL the sights?” I questioned sharply, glancing concerned at Lotor. Surely he had taken the time to censor what Romelle would see!

“Yes, the armory, the library, even the witch’s laboratory.” Lotor answered and I felt relieved. Those places were relatively harmless, and I doubted Romelle would be exposed to much horror unless an errant slave chose to act up within view of the princess. “Romelle was most interested in the last one.”

“I wanted to see where my brother Avok would stay in the coming days.” Romelle explained. A pause followed her words, and then she flushed. “It’s not at all what I expected. For a witch’s lair.” She added hastily. “It’s certainly dark and gloomy enough, but it seemed so modern…!”

“Haggar insists on the best.” Lotor replied with a chuckle. “She’s not content to do her magic with archaic tools.”

“There are other witches.” I said, turning a teasing smile on the princess. “Ones whose lairs do fit the profile of a witch’s home. If you like, I’m sure Lotor could bring
you to visit one of those.”

“Thank you but no.” Romelle gave a slight shake of her head. “One visit to a witch’s home was enough for me.”

“Your loss.” I replied, still teasing her. A witch’s lair was after all, no place for a princess. No matter how closely tied to the court that particular witch might be. “Has Haggar started prepping Prince Avok?”

“No, not yet.” That had Lotor frowning, the look in his eyes annoyed. “She’s running tests on his stamina and health. To gauge how much energy she can pour into him without killing him.” From the expression on his face, I knew Lotor wouldn’t have minded if the experiment ended in Avok’s death.

“Kill him?” Romelle was alarmed, and Lotor did nothing to reassure her. I held back a sigh, letting my voice take on a soothing tone.

“There is always a danger that a person may be too weak to withstand the energy needed to undergo the transformation. But you shouldn’t worry, your highness.” We were coming upon the banquet room, the group inside’s voices carrying out into the hall. “Your brother is strong, not to mention healthy. He should become a fine robeast for us.”

“I certainly hope so.” Romelle murmured as Lotor growled.

“He better.” A sour look was on his face, Romelle did not miss it, frowning. But she didn’t call Lotor on it, merely allowing him to usher her into the banquet room. The voices grew louder in volume, the people were already making merry with the food and drink that was laid out on the long tables. Many were in fact already drunk, to the point they didn’t turn to look at our entrance into the room.

But our arrival wasn’t completely unnoticed, King Zarkon making eye contact with his son. A nod was exchanged, and then Lotor was leading us over to his father. King Cova was standing besides Zarkon’s seat, and the other three men from Pollux were also present. The humans looked overwhelmed by the Drules drunken revelry, and I couldn’t help but notice how uneasy their King was. I put if off as worry over Avok, so much rode on his ability to become a strong robeast.

I should have realized at once that there was more to it. Cova was bothered by Lotor’s interest in his daughter, he didn’t want a Drule influencing her in any way. Especially one with Lotor’s reputation, the prince a womanizer in the best of lights.

“Father.” Lotor said, his bow taking him and Romelle downwards. I mimicked that show of respect, waiting for the King to give us permission to rise. He took his time about it, sipping the blood red wine from his chalice.

“I understand you’ve been showing Romelle the sights.” Zarkon said at last, a negligent wave of his hand calling us out of the bow. “Tell me, have you been to the torture pits yet?”

“Th…the torture pits?” Romelle had paled considerably, Lotor shooting his father an evil look.

“No father, we have not.” He tsked then. “Such sights are not for such a delicate princess.”

“Indeed.” Her father spoke up, the waver in his voice hinting at how hard he was trying not to show his anger. “Romelle shouldn’t be exposed to such….undignified sights!”

“You surprise me Cova.” Zarkon grumbled. “Pollux has the reputation for being the evil twin of planet Arus. Surely a little torture and death shouldn’t offend any of your sensibilities!”

“My people are not evil!” Romelle protested, which was foolish for it only gained her Zarkon’s attention. He looked at her then, disdain in his eyes.

“Oh? Then what would you call them?” Zarkon asked. “They openly covet Arus, and the enslavement of that planet’s people. You’re prepared to start a war, not to maintain peace, but out of greed and lust. You’re father is even willing to turn his own son into a monster, to see that that planet falls into ruin. I’d practically be a saint in comparison if that is not evil that motivates you and your father.”

“Father!” snapped Lotor, drawing Romelle closer to his side as though that would protect her from the King’s words.

“No, Lotor. Let her speak.” Zarkon said, even as Cova sputtered some things besides him.

“It is not like that!” insisted Romelle, her face flush, her eyes sparking with a hint of defiant anger. “My people only want what is their birthright, the world that has been denied to them.”

“And who decided that Arus was that birthright? Hmm?” questioned Zarkon.

“Our ancestors were exiled to Pollux decades ago.” Romelle replied. “Left to rot, to possibly die on the planet. Arus didn’t give a care as to what happened to them, or their children. They hoped we would die out…We did not. We only grew stronger…”

“As did your hate towards Arus.” Zarkon pointed out, then leaned forward in his seat. “Tell me Romelle. Is it not true that all your ancestors, even your vaunted first King of Pollux, were nothing more than criminals? The dregs of society, murders, rapists, thieves…all banished from Arus in order to protect the good hearted people that lived on that world?”

She flushed in answer, but Zarkon didn’t wait for her to speak. “And isn’t it true that your own king, the one your family is descended from, was the most ruthless of all. That he became king through murdering all of his opposition?”

“That’s how the rumor goes…” admitted a flustered Romelle.

“He made his kingdom on the corpses of his enemies. Pollux, your family, intends to continue that tradition.” A smile then. “We are not that different, for Doom does the same.”

I saw a flash of horror in Romelle’s eyes, before she quickly doused it. But it was enough to let me know she didn’t like the idea that Doom and Pollux were the same. She made one last bold exclamation though, proving how foolishly brave she was. “That’s where you’re wrong! Pollux only wants Arus. You sire, will not be satisfied until the entire Denubian Galaxy is under your thumb!”

“Romelle!” Her father snapped, surely fearing she would earn Zarkon’s anger. But the old King held up a hand, actually laughing.

“It is all right Cova. She doesn’t know.”

“Know what?” Romelle asked, looking between her father and Zarkon. Lotor seemed just as confused, and I couldn’t blame him. He hadn’t been present for any of the prolong meeting the two Kings had had.

“It’s not just Arus we are going to go after.” Zarkon smiled in satisfaction at Romelle’s horrified reaction. “King Cova and I have been talking. If Avok should prove to be as strong a robeast as you all claim he will, then I will have many more uses for him.”

“N….no!” She exclaimed, glancing at her father for confirmation.

“It’s true Romelle. I’ve agreed to loan out the use of your brother to Doom, provided Zarkon splits any new conquests with us.” Cova seemed oddly apologetic to his daughter, but the shame he felt wasn’t enough to get him to back down from this scheme.

That only increased his daughter’s upset, she shook her head, looking as though she was fighting back tears. And then just as abruptly, she was pulling her hand away from Lotor’s arm. Without another word, she turned and stalked away, leaving Lotor behind to sputter out apologies for her abrupt behavior.

Rather than stay and watch Lotor try to make amends for Romelle leaving the king without properly being dismissed, I bowed and followed after her. She was fast on her feet, having already made it out into the hall, though I knew not where she thought to go next. She seemed at a loss over it too, glancing my way before leaning into the wall.

“They are never gonna let my brother go, are they?” She asked, voice whisper soft and sad. I considered this, but ultimately decided the truth was the best course.

“Yes. If Avok proves a viable monster, they will keep using him.”

“It’s not fair!” Her eyes flashed, she was angry, frustrated over her helplessness to stop this plot. She actually made a fist, hitting the back of it against the wall she leaned against. “Avok is not a tool to be used. He shouldn’t spend the rest of his life as a robeast…”

I couldn’t help myself, my curiosity getting the better of me. “What did you think was going to happen then?” She raised her eyes up to mine, but I didn’t change my words. “He would either die in the fight against Voltron, or succeed. If he won, my King would never give up such a valuable robeast. It was foolish of your King to offer up his son, his heir.”

“It wasn’t father’s idea!” Romelle protested. “Avok volunteered.”

That drew me back, I hadn’t expected the prince to be so self sacrificing. “Why?”

“For the honor of our people.” She explained. “Avok wanted nothing more than to see us restored to our rightful world. It was he who came up with this scheme, right down to every detail. He wouldn’t, couldn’t allow someone else to become the robeast. Avok would never ask another to do what he was unable to do!” Her face shone with a mix of respect for her brother, and grief. She admired her brother for his morals, even as she disapproved of his fate.

“Avok was supposed to fell Voltron for us.” Romelle continued softly. “He was supposed to usher us into prosperity….” She shook her head then, her long blond hair falling forward across her shoulders. “He was supposed to come back from this! To bear personal witness to the new life he earned for the people of Pollux. How can he enjoy the results of his efforts, if he’s trapped as a monster?”

I had no words to reassure her, I couldn’t even muster up a lie that someday Avok would earn retirement. There was no such thing for robeasts. They fight and fight, until the point of collapse, and then were pushed to fight some more. They lived and died on the battlefield, and Avok would be the same.

Romelle continued to stare searchingly into my eyes, waiting for the answer I could not give. I did not want to further crush this girl’s hopes, nor did I want to lie to her. Fortunately for me, it was then that Lotor arrived, the prince radiating displeasure over having to apologize to his father.

“Romelle.” He said, annoyance marring his features. “Why did you leave?!”

“Ah…forgive me…” Romelle lowered her gaze. “I could not stand another minute of your father’s knowing smirk.”

“For future reference, you would be wise not to walk away from him until you’ve been excused.” Lotor grumbled out. “Fortunately for us all, Zarkon was more amused than upset. He finds you a spirited girl.”

I nearly snorted at that. “Since when does Zarkon like spirit in his women?”

Lotor shrugged. “I didn’t say he meant it as a compliment.”

“I suppose I should apologize to him.” Romelle sighed, looking as though that was the last thing she wanted to do.

“There’s no need right now.” Lotor shook his head. “If you return before him, he’ll only continue to bait you. There’s little my father enjoys more than causing upset in people.”

She was silent a moment, thinking this over. “Very well. I will wait to give my apology.”

“Will you come back to the party now?” Already he was reaching for her hand. Romelle shook her head no.

“I find I am in no mood for celebrations.”

“But you haven’t even eaten anything!” protested Lotor, fighting his annoyance at her refusal.

“I find I have no appetite.” She leaned wearily against the wall, putting on a show of how tired she was. “Please your highness. I must rest.”

“Very well.” Lotor was frowning. “I must stay at this party. My father is making too many plans without me this day. Sabbath, you take Romelle to the guest quarters. My father has seen fit to give Cova and his entourage bedding in the castle.”

That was surprising to me, considering just earlier Zarkon had been intent on throwing them all in the dungeons. But I nodded, and bowed to my prince. “Very well your highness. Princess? If you’ll come with me?”

“Yes.” She flashed me a grateful look, then curtsied to Lotor. I didn’t fail to notice the way his gaze lingered on the cleavage of her modest dress. But by the time
Romelle straightened, Lotor was turning, walking back into the banquet room. I wondered if he would visit his harem to slack the lust Romelle stirred in him, or he would continue to let is boil. The latter would prove dangerous to Romelle for Lotor would become more aggressive the longer he went unsatisfied.

“Commander Sabbath?” I had paused without realizing it, staring after Lotor.

“Please. Just Sabbath is fine.” I said, offering her my arm. She took it and we began to walk the halls of castle Doom. It was very dark here, the corridors dimly lit by flickering torches. It was just one reason Romelle needed an escort. She’d get hopelessly lost, even if she had known the way to guest wing. There were other dangers in the castle, humans did not often have free reign to wander these halls.

“Is it always so dark and gloomy in this castle?” Romelle asked, and I nodded.

“Zarkon likes the atmosphere to be dark and dangerous, like him.” She didn’t smile at that, her hand trembling on my arm.

“It succeeds.” She said at last, and lapses into silence for the length of one corridor. “Sabbath? What do you think of my brother’s chances? Against Voltron I mean.”

I paused to give it the consideration her question deserved. I thought of Avok’s fight in the arena, of his tactics and strategy. Of his strength when he had split open the robeast’s skull. But mostly I thought of the luck he had had, Avok winning against Lotor only because the Drule had been distracted by Romelle’s arrival.

“Voltron isn’t like a robeast.” I finally said, which earned a quizzical look from the princess. “He won’t be able to tire it out like he could a flesh and blood monster.”

“What do you mean?”

“Did you not notice?” I asked her, turning another corridor. The guest quarters were well on the other side of the castle, and we were not even halfway there yet. “He used a specific tactic against the monster. He purposefully tired it out, evading it’s attacks, letting the creature use up it’s strength before he went on the offensive. It’s not the most honorable way of fighting to us Drule, but it did gain him the victory.”

She flushed, angry over what I had said. “Is that why Prince Lotor challenged him? Because he thought he didn’t win the fight in a fair manner?”

“Partly.” I wasn’t about to admit that pride had been Lotor’s motivating factor. “Did you know princess, that among we Drules, Prince Lotor is considered the best of our fighters? Maybe even the best in all the galaxy?”

“Now that can’t be true.” A smile played on her lips, though her eyes still looked angry.

Why do you say that?” I asked her, watching the smile blossom.

“Because my brother, Avok holds that title.”

“But he is human.” I pointed out. “He’s hardly strong in comparison to a Drule.”

“Human he may be, but he is also from Pollux. The harsh conditions of that world lead to a stronger, sturdier type of man.” Romelle retorted. I found myself teasing her again.

“And what of the women? Are they stronger? Or are they soft?” As soft looking as she was. But Romelle drew herself straight and proud, giving me a regal nod.

“The women of Pollux may not look strong, but we are. On the inside where it matters.”

That was something Drules didn’t really understand or respect. What good was inner strength, when the body could be overcome by adversity? A strong will wouldn’t stop a sword from gutting you.

“You will need to draw on that strength then.” I said, not realizing how true my words would become. “For yourself, and your brothers, both of them. It will be a trying time these coming days.. Princess, if I may be so bold…visit with your brother Avok again. Do it as often as it will be allowed.”

“Why?” A curios tilt of her head, she was studying my expression. I didn’t try to guard it from her, letting her see the truth in my eyes.

“Once Avok is successfully turned, his mind will deteriorate.” She gasped then, a hand flying to cover her open mouth. “He will not recognize you, will not recognize the man he once was.”

“Then…it was all a lost cause from the begginning, wasn’t it?” Romelle asked. “There was never going to be a chance to turn him back, was there? Not with his mind damaged!”

“Truthfully I don’t know.” I said, seeing her surprise. “No one has ever attempted to reverse Haggar’s magic.”

“Oh.” She didn’t break down and start crying though, just remaining quiet as she digested my words. A few more steps and we were in the hall of the guest quarters, and I led her to one of the vacant rooms.

“If you need anything…” I began, my voice causing her to pause in the door’s frame. “Do not hesitate to ask for me.”

“Are you sure a commander should be playing servant?” She asked, and I shrugged.

“It would be my pleasure to wait on you.” I gave her a small smile then. “And I think it would not be a hardship to be ordered around by you.” Was that the slightest of blushes on her face? I couldn’t tell but she seemed flustered by my words.

“Thank you comman—Sabbath.” She corrected at the last second. “I will keep that in mind.” I bowed to her, and then the door was closed, Romelle retreating inside the room. I wondered if I had succeeded even just a little in distracting her from her upset about her brother Avok’s situation. And then I wondered why I even cared, not realizing that something about Romelle, perhaps that spirit Zarkon had talked of, was affecting me. I was already falling under her spell, and I did not even know it then.

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