It would take several days for Avok’s transformation into robeast to be completed. And during that time, a lull seemed to fill the castle. I found myself with a lot of free time on my hands, to the point boredom set in. I was simply too used to the military lifestyle, the constant action of the battlefield. I needed excitement to stimulate both my mind and my body, and lounging about the castle with the nobles wasn’t going to give me that energy.
And so I found myself spending a lot of time with the soldiers. They were much lower in rank than me, leadign them to be wary of a commanding officer joining them for their exercise routines. But once they realized I was there to practice, and not bully them, they accepted me albeit grudgingly. I didn’t slack on the job, exerting myself to the point I was breathless and damp with sweat.
It was like this that Lotor found me, Princess Romelle once again on his arm. I was wiping my wet face off with a towel, when Lotor drew her up besides me. “Sabbath, I didn’t expect to see you here.”
“Your highness. Princess.” I nodded at her, noting she was wide eyed as she looked around the room. The soldiers here were out of uniform, I myself had gone shirtless, wearing only thin draw string pants on my lower half. I was amused when Romelle looked me over, and even more so when she realized I had caught her admiring gaze. A pink blush bloomed in her cheeks, the girl turning away from me.
I felt good for her regard, no longer feeling so sweaty and unpresentable. “Just trying to work out some restless energy.” I told Lotor.
“Good idea. One I had for myself as well.” Lotor said. He released Romelle’s arm, and proceeded to unlock his sword belt. I lifted an eyebrow, amused.
“You planning to spar with the soldiers?”
“I was until a better opponent presented himself.” Grinned Lotor, laying his sword belt on the nearest bench. He immediately set to removing his tunic, poor Romelle not knowing where to look. “You up for it commander?”
“Any time, your highness.” I knew I couldn’t beat him in a fair fight, but stranger things had been known to happen. Maybe today would be my lucky day, and I would finally best Prince Lotor.
“Then now.” Lotor ordered, tying back his hair into a ponytail. I nodded, and called out a command, the soldiers responding by clearing space in the center of the room’s floor mat. “Sit here Romelle.” Lotor guided her over to the bench, and raised her hand up so he could plant a kiss on it. “For luck.” He added, and I teasingly protested.
“That’s not fair. You don’t need luck!” The gathered soldiers all laughed, but it was a nervous sound. They knew as well as I did, how efficient a fighter Lotor was. This wouldn’t be an easy fight, and we were both likely to be exhausted by the time it was over with.
I walked to the center of the mat, stretching and swinging my arms from side to side. I was already warmed up from my previous exercise, but I allowed a moment’s pause for Lotor to limber up. He didn’t waste the time in showing off for Romelle, he was taking the fight seriously. I waited for him to finish his warming up stretches, and then Lotor nodded.
“‘I’ve been born ready.” I retorted with a grin. Lotor gave me his own cocky grin, the two of us walking towards each other. But neither of us bowed. It was a known tactic to kick your opponent when he tried to show you respect, and neither of us was fool enough to fall into that trap. Instead we began circling around each other, expressions as guarded as we could make them. I hoped my face wasn’t betraying my intentions, my eyes searching for an opening to attack.
I don’t know what Lotor saw when he looked at me, but we ended up lunging forward at the exact same time. Our boisterous battle cries filled the gymnasium, our fists raised. My fist came down first, a punch being swung at Lotor’s face. Ever concerned about his good looks being ruined, Lotor quickly aborted his own punch, stepping back from my fist.
My fist swiped through air, and then Lotor was lashing out with his leg. It was a high kick, catching me on the right side of my torso. It didn’t hurt that much, it would take many more blows in that spot before the pain could aggravate me enough to concede the fight.
The kick finished, Lotor pivoted on his foot, turning to aim another kick at me. This time I caught his foot, and shoved upwards, trying to knock the prince off his balance. He quickly toppled over, but turned that into a fluid motion, backflipping away from me. Even as his feet touched the ground, I was charging, fists ready and aiming for his front. I actually managed to get in two punches, though it wouldn’t be enough to do more than bruise him. And then Lotor was grabbing my wrists, trying to knock me off balance with a violent over the shoulder throw.
Like him, I let my body relax, easing my way into the fall. I rolled as I hit the mat, getting out of the way before Lotor’s aimed foot could stomp in the side of my face. Through it all I could hear cheering, the gathered soldiers were enjoying the show. They all had favorites on who would win, though Lotor’s supporters far outnumbered mine.
Romelle was somewhere in the gymnasium, watching this spectacle. I had no idea what she was thinking, her voice lost to the soldiers’ cries. But I didn’t think she would find our fight barbaric. After all she had been present at the arena, cheering her brother on with pride in her eyes. She could handle the violence of two men fighting, even if the two men were of a species known for their savagery.
Rolling to a stop, I did a handsprings jump upwards to get back on my feet. Lotor’s fist clocked me in the right temple, he had followed me as I rolled around the mat. He hadn’t pulled his punch either, I was dazed to the point I thought I saw stars. But I didn’t stop fighting, punching Lotor back with just enough force as he had shown me. It staggered the prince, enough that I grabbed fistfuls of his hair, dragging his face downwards to meet me raising knee.
The blow to his face enraged Lotor, rather than a pained cry, I heard an angry growl. Lotor jerked back from my grip, hair pulling free. He was pissed, eyes flashing as he looked at me. And then he lunged forward, barreling into me, and taking me down to the mat. I landed on my back with Lotor seated on top of me, the prince giving me a vicious look.
“Prince..!” I managed to say, just before he began punching me in the face. He hit me several times before the soldiers moved to draw him off me. Lotor still looked pissed, blood on his lip from where my punch had split it. I could only lay back on the mat, trying to regain my senses as the world spun dizzily around me. My face hurt, and I knew it would be swollen at best. But it didn’t feel like my nose was broken, so I would count my stars as lucky for that.
I heard a splash of water, someone had thrown the liquid in Lotor’s face to cool him down from his anger. He no longer struggled against the hold on his arms, blinking around in surprise.
“You win.” I managed to say in a raspy voice. Lotor stared at me a moment, before he acknowledge my defeat.
“Indeed I do.” The soldiers relaxed their grip, and Lotor stepped away from them. “Come Sabbath.” He said, thrusting a hand before me to take. “Let’s get cleaned up.”
“What about Romelle?” I asked, surprised he would leave the princess along in the gymnasium.
“She will be fine.” Lotor said, pulling me up off the mat. He then cast a threatening look at the gathered soldiers. “Won’t she?” They chorused out an obedient yes, Lotor smirking, sure he had the situation well under hand. I was swaying on my feet, Lotor had hit me too hard too often for me to not be dizzy.
“Romelle…” Lotor paused to gather his tunic and sword belt off of the bench. “I shall return shortly. Wait for me here.”
“All right.” Her eyes looked not at Lotor, but at me, her concern touching my heart.
“I’m fine.” I assured her, but she still remained uncertain.
“Are you?” Romelle asked, and Lotor cut in, impatience in his voice.
“Sabbath said he was fine!”
Her blue eyes widened, she actually took a step back from Lotor. There had been an undercurrent of some ugly emotion in his voice, Lotor not liking that the princes was showing concern over another man. I tried to dismiss it as part of Lotor’s normal possessiveness. After all, he considered Romelle his, even if the princess did not yet know that.
“Wait here.” He repeated harshly, then stalked off to the gymnasium’s showers. I glanced one last time at Romelle, before hurrying after Lotor at a pace that wouldn’t make me topple over or throw up.
“Damn it prince…” I said when we were inside the shower room. “You may have given me a concussion!”
“It’s nothing less than you deserve for almost breaking my nose!” Lotor retorted, at last wiping the blood of his lower lip. “Now quit your whining and clean up!”
I grumbled under my breath in response to that, shucking my pants before entering a shower stall. I let the water run cold so as to keep me awake and aware. Damn but my face hurt, even for the spray of the shower head on it. It wasn’t the first time Lotor had hurt me in a fight, and I knew it probably wouldn’t be the last time either. It was the risk one took when they agreed to fight the prince of Doom.
For the first few minutes of our showers, we didn’t talk. I didn’t know Lotor was also using cold water, all in an attempt to cool off his battle lust and the anger that had risen in him during the fight. When he finally did calm down, it was no surprise his first question was about Romelle. Or more precisely what I thought of her.
“Romelle? She seems nice enough.” I said cautiously. “Especially for a princess of a supposedly evil world.”
“She is nice.” Lotor agreed. “She’s just like Allura. Untainted, pure.” I felt a shiver go through me at the relish in which he spoke of Romelle’s purity.
“She’s not completely like Allura.” I said, not bothering to do more than wet my hair. And all because I hadn’t bothered to take out of the dozens upon dozen of thin braids I normally wore my hair in. “After all…” I added, with a smirk Lotor could not see. “She tolerates you just fine.”
“She does more than tolerate me!” Lotor snapped. “She likes me!”
“Does she now…?” I wondered out loud. “Oh well…it’s early.” I couldn’t stop teasing him. “I’m sure by the third day she won’t be able to stand you.” I laughed when Lotor let out a growl, the prince annoyed by my words. “And then she really will be like Allura in that regard.”
“I’m going to marry Romelle.” Lotor suddenly announced, and I nearly choked on the water.
“What?! Since when?!”
“It was decided last night.” Lotor replied. “My father is going to allow it.”
“What about HER father?” I asked. “King Cova doesn’t seem very fond of you, or thrilled by your association with his daughter.”
“Cova doesn’t need to know until after the fact.”
“How are you going to keep it a secret from him?” I demanded, switching off the water. “And why would the princess not tell her own father about her impending nuptials?! Are you two going to elope?” I didn’t think Lotor would be able to persuade Romelle to even consider marrying him, let alone engaging in a secret of this magnitude.
“No.” Lotor said curtly, lingering in the shower stall. I was already drying off, towel rubbing at my hair.
“Romelle won’t know either.” My brow furrowed at that, I almost growled.
“Just what are you planning?”
“There’s going to be a betrayal.” Lotor said, finally exiting the shower stall. He reached for a towel, and set to drying off, a smirk on his face. “You know how my father is. He’d never share wealth with another kingdom. Let alone divide up his empire with Pollux.”
“I know that.” I retorted. “Even giving them Arus is expecting too much of Zarkon’s nonexistent generosity.”
“So then it shouldn’t come as a surprise to you, that once…IF Avok defeats Voltron, we will turn him on Pollux. That planet is useless, it can go rot for all my father cares.”
I paused in the act of pulling on my pants, thinking over what Lotor said. It could work, Avok’s mind would no longer remember his family, his planet, or any of the ties he had to that world and it’s people. He’d easily go on a rampage wherever Doom released him, and without someone to stop Avok, the former prince would end up destroying his own planet.
“Romelle will surely hate you for this.” I said at last, pulling tight the drawstring of my pants.
“She will get over it.” Lotor said coldly.
“What if she doesn’t?”
“Then she can be miserable for all I care!” Lotor retorted. “I intend to have that girl for my bride. For both Romelle AND Allura to be my wives.”
“Both princesses? Aren’t you aiming big.” I muttered softly.
“I haven’t given up on Allura.” Lotor informed me. “Avok will defeat Voltron, Arus will fall. I will be there to offer comfort to Allura in her time of need. She’ll have no one to turn to. She will HAVE to love me.”
It sounded to me as though Lotor was setting himself up for a lot of heartbreak and bitter disappointments. I was sure Allura would never love him, not if he conquered her planet. She’d hate him as much as Romelle would hate him for Doom’s betrayal. All three would be miserable, and a cycle of never ending abuse would begin, with Lotor at the heart of it.
“Yeah, good luck with that.” I muttered insincerely. “So how is this all going to go down? Where is the big fight between Avok and Voltron supposed to take place?”
“On Pollux.” Lotor answered, pulling on his pants. “In a few days time, Avok and one of our armadas will accompany Romelle’s father back to Pollux. My father is already having Cova draft up a challenge to Arus. A suitable one that will have the Voltron Force come running. For good or bad, it will all take place on Pollux.” He grinned then, pulling on his boots. “I cannot wait to see the resulting battle!”
“Yeah, it will be something all right.” I agreed.
It didn’t sound like there would be much for me to do on Pollux, since the focus of this fight would be Avok and Voltron. But I welcomed the chance to get away from castle Doom. I was also curious, eager to find out the outcome of such a match up, for good or bad.
“Fear not Sabbath. It’s about to get a whole lot busier in the Empire.” Lotor’s grin vanished as his tunic was pulled over his head. His voice came out muffled by the fabric. “When Voltron falls, we can concentrate on new worlds! Think of the battles that will ensue, the strategies we’ll have to formulate!”
“You always did like a challenge.” I said, knowing it was true, be the challenge a war or a woman.
“And it’s not like I’ll let married life change me.” Lotor added, securing his sword belt around his waist. “I’ll still be active in the battles. You know me, I won’t be content to stay behind and let someone else fight for me.”
“That’s true.” I nodded, following Lotor out of the shower room. “You always did like getting your hands dirty…”
Lotor laughed, but otherwise did not respond, having spied Romelle. She was seating where we had left her, hands folded o her lap as she watched the soldiers battle. But her back was stiff, she was tense. A tension that did not flee until we stopped before her, the girl rising to her feet. I noticed she immediately looked to me before the prince, as though trying to gauge how bad my injuries were.
“Don’t worry.” I told her. “It looks worse than it hurts, I’m sure.”
“And he will only get uglier as the bruises form.” Lotor told her, smirking. “Now Romelle, I don’t know about you, but all this fighting has worked me up an appetite.” I couldn’t help but wonder which of his hungers he wanted to feed, noting the dark look of desire in his eyes whenever he gazed at his future bride.
Romelle didn’t look like she wanted to eat, hesitating in answering Lotor. “Well, I…” His communicator went off, and Lotor swore. He immediately switched it on, issuing an angry snarl into it.
The voice that came out of the device was speaking in Drule, sounding anxious. The man told Lotor his father wanted his presence immediately in the King’s study, Zarkon wanting to talk about the plans for both Arus and Pollux.
“Problem?” Romelle asked, looking at Lotor who was sighing as he put away the communicator.
“I’m afraid so.” Lotor said with an exaggerated frown. “My father has an urgent matter for me. I swear, he depends on me almost too much. Will you excuse me Romelle?”
“Sabbath, I am entrusting the princess to your hands.” I nodded at that. “Take Romelle wherever she wishes to go.” He didn’t have to speak out loud that some places would be off limits to her, trusting me to know not to bring her to the nastiest parts of the castle.
“She will be safe under my guard.” I told him, watching as Lotor raised Romelle’s hand to kiss it good-bye.
“I will try to return to you as swiftly as I can.”
“Oh please! Do not rush your father’s business on my account.” She protested. “I’m sure it’s much more important than playing tour guide to some visiting princess.”
“I might normally agree, except when that princess is you.” Lotor had the pleasure of her blush, before he turned and walked away from us. I couldn’t help but think that sometimes he laid it on a little too thick with the charm where Romelle was concerned.
“Are you really all right?” Romelle’s voice drew me away from my thoughts. I turned and she lifted her hand towards my right cheek. I widened my eyes in surprise, not expecting her to touch me. She didn’t complete the act, my surprised look must have frightened her off. “You don’t need a doctor?”
“Drules have thick skulls.” I told her, trying to force a smile on my face. I was too rattled by the fact she had intended to touch my face to let it come naturally. “Lotor would have to be a lot more vicious than that to do me any real harm.”
“You mean that wasn’t the prince at his most vicious?” She actually shuddered then, crossing her arms over her chest to hug herself for warmth. I debated on how to answer that, and feared she would find out first hand how vicious Lotor could be.
“Sometimes he’s worse.” I finally admitted. “He’s knocked me around a few times in the past, even broke some bones.” She was suitable horrified at that, pretty mouth falling open in a round o of shock. “It’s fine though. I’ve gotten a few licks in myself on the prince. And maybe someday I’ll finally be able to win in a fight with him.”
“You’ve never won?” I shook my head no, and she frowned. “And yet you continue to fight him, knowing he will hurt you, all on the slim chance you might win? I don’t understand. Is it pride that motivates you?”
“Maybe just a little. I mean who wouldn’t want to beat the greatest fighter in the galaxy?” I was sheepish then. It seemed so silly with Romelle examining the fighting like that. “Come, are you hungry? I am…”
“I’m…actually not ready to eat.” Romelle said. She seemed to fidget before me, as though frightened to tell me what was really on her mind. “Did you really mean it the other night? About if I needed anything…to ask you?”
I was instantly even more alert than I had been, nodding. “What do you need?”
“‘I want to see my brother. To see Avok….” She said, then hurried to explain. “I kept asking his highness, but Lotor kept putting off my request.” Romelle lowered her eyes. “He doesn’t understand why I need to see my brother. To be with him one last time.”
“But you think I do?”
“I know you do!” Romelle exclaimed, her eyes raising to show her fierce belief in that. “After all, you were the one who told me to spend as much time with Avok as I possibly could before his transformation. So please…” She clasped her hands together, expression almost begging. “Take me to Haggar’s lair?”
I thought of what she told me, how Lotor didn’t want her to see Avok. I might be risking the prince’s displeasure, but I also felt it wrong to deny Romelle this simple request. She had the right to visit with her brother, especially considering he would soon be a mindless monster, unable to recognize her, or derive pleasure from her visit. I nodded my agreement, and her face lit up with her joy. I couldn’t help but be dazzled, her beauty magnifying a dozen times over when she gave a true smile. I found myself smiling back at her, and even then I knew to relish her smile. For in the coming months, that smile would become a not often given rarity, Lotor all but beating the joy out of Romelle.