It was late morning when our ship finally made it to the surface of planet Pollux. We would then be guided into the large inner courtyard of the royal family’s castle, the sides of the flag ship scraping against the stone walls. The flag ship was the only one invited onto the castle’s property. We had more than enough Drule soldiers onboard it to subdue the humans in the castle, so it wasn’t a worry to send off the other Drule ships.
The rest of the Drule armada was sent off to be stationed over the many cities and towns of planet Pollux. We weren’t even trying to hide the Drule presence on this land. And all because the message King Cova had agreed to send to Arus, had made careful mention of the fact that he had allied with Doom. The message called for Arus’ surrender, as if the alliance would be enough to frighten princess Allura and her advisor into surrender. We knew it wouldn’t, and we were counting on the Voltron Force to attempt to sneak onto the planet.
But first they would have to arrive. It would be a waiting game now, everyone tense and playing each other for fools. King Cova kept up the act of honoring the alliance, going so far as to greet Prince Lotor on his knees. Cova wasn’t the only one groveling, the young prince Bandor was besides him, as was his ten advisors. Lotor was pleased by this show of submission, as was Haggar. I however, couldn’t help but wonder what the King’s soldiers thought of this. It had to be pretty demoralizing to see their ruler on his knees, even if he was planning to betray Doom.
The number of Polluxian soldiers present was suspicious in and of itself. The orange and gold colored uniforms were everywhere, the soldiers moving to surround the flag ship. The sight of them didn’t give Lotor pause, the prince walking down the ship’s ramp with a confidant swagger. Haggar was close behind him, and Romelle and I followed two steps behind her. Over thirty soldiers followed us, the men seeming at ease though that was a deception. At the slightest threat, they would take up arms, and kill every human present save for Romelle.
It would fall up to me to guard Romelle once things turned sour. I was the only one the prince trusted to keep her safe. It was a double edge sword, for I was sure she’d hate me when the fighting was over and done with. After all, she’d be imprisoned, and would surely endure countless mistreatments at Lotors’ hands. More and more, I was coming to hate this, to question my orders. If I could have, I would have found a way to both obey Lotor, and keep Romelle free of him.
Instead I was in an awful place, my loyalties torn between the two. It put me on edge, though anyone viewing me would have assumed it was the fact that we were in a new place, surrounded by hundreds of foreign soldiers that was the cause of my nervousness.
“King Cova.” Lotor came to a stop a scant few inches from the kneeling humans. Cova waited until then to raise his head, his expression showing feigned relief at the sight of the Drules. “It took us a few hours more than expected, but we’ve finally arrived.”
“So you have. Avok is well?” Cova asked.
“He’s as well as can be expected.” Lotor answered with a grimace. “He screamed and fought the entire journey. At times the chains barely held him.”
“I dare say when he is freed, he will be an unstoppable force. He will seek out a target to vent his rage upon…that target being Voltron of course.” Haggar cackled gleefully.
“Have you gotten a response back from Arus yet?” Lotor wanted to know.
“There’s been nothing but silence as far as Arus is concerned.” Cova told him. “I don’t like this…shouldn’t they have at least sent a refusal?”
“They’re plotting something, I’m sure of it.” Dreck, one of the King’s advisors said.
“It’s what we’re counting on you, fool!” Snapped Haggar. “Arus would never give in to such a demand. Nor would they be content to wait and let the fight come to their world. No…the Voltron Force will be coming here…I’m sure of it.”
“We’re lucky Avok didn’t delay us to the point that the Voltron Force got here first.” Lotor muttered.
“Fear not Prince Lotor. We still have plenty of time.” Haggar said reassuringly. “Even now, General Mogor is prepping Avok’s coffin for removal….I dare say we even have time to relax now…”
Lotor liked the sound of that, turning to look at Romelle. She quickly averted her gaze, but that wouldn’t save her from Lotor’s attention for very long. “Romelle…will you show me around your home?”
“I…” There was no easy way for her to get out of this request, Romelle hesitating for longer than was polite. Lotor looked at her with an eager expression. It wasn’t the castle he cared about, he just wanted to steal some time alone with the princess.
“Prince Lotor, I am still uncertain about some of this plan.” King Cova surprisingly took mercy on his daughter. “I would feel better if we went over the details of it.”
“What, now?” Lotor demanded with a frown.
“Yes, now.” Cova insisted. “I have heard very little beyond the news that Avok will fight Voltron. I am interested in what sort of contingency plans you have in the case that Avok fails.”
“Brother Avok will not fail!” protested Bandor, an admiring look in his eyes. “He is greater than Voltron, greater than any one in the universe!”
Lotor was hesitating. I knew why. We didn’t have a true back up plan, having put all our hopes on Avok. If he failed, the Drules planned to evacuate immediately, but not without causing as much damage to Pollux and it’s people first.
“You do have a back plan…don’t you?” demanded Cova.
“Of course we do.” It was Haggar who spoke up. “Why do you think we brought such a large number of ships to Pollux? Even if Avok falls, he should have weakened the Voltron Force to the point our ships can finish them off.”
“I will add to your ships with those of planet Pollux’s military.” Cova decided, and rose up off his knees. “Come Prince Lotor, Haggar. We have much to plan. We have to coordinate our attacks so no…accidents occur.”
“Yes…we wouldn’t want that.” Lotor grumbled with a glower on his face. “Forgive me Romelle…I will have to take a rain check on that tour.”
“Of course.” She nodded, trying to hide her relief. “Some other time then.”
“Count on it.” Lotor said, bowing to her before moving to follow her father. The advisors also got up, prince Bandor moving to follow them. “Where do you think you’re going?” Lotor demanded, and Bandor paused, surprise in his eyes.
“With you and father…” He said uncertainly.
“This is business.” Lotor informed him. “Go play with your toys, and let the adults handle things from this end.”
“There’s no harm in letting the boy attend is there?” Cova wanted to know. “He has to learn about war sooner or later…”
“I am not here to give him an education.” Lotor retorted. It seemed he had chosen to make a target out of the young prince. And all because he had been denied the
chance to be alone with Romelle. “Teach him on your own time, Cova.”
“Fine.” Cova looked away. “Bandor, go seek out the weapons master. I’m sure he is most eager to pick up on your sword training.”
“Bandor, do as I say!” Cova snapped, and Bandor seemed to pout.
“Fine!” Angry, he ran on ahead through one of the many doors of the castle, forcefully slamming it shut behind him. No one tried to make any apologies for Bandor’s display of temper. He was after all young, and had been denied something he had wanted to do.
“Haggar, stay here and keep an eye on Avok. I don’t doubt that if something goes wrong, it will be you, and not Mogor who averts a disaster.”
“Of course, prince Lotor.” Haggar bowed her head. “My magic should be able to keep the prince subdued long enough for the Voltron Force to arrive.”
“It better.” Lotor said, then leaned in close to her. “And keep an eye on that other matter we talked about.” I knew enough to know her cat Coba was still wandering the castle, being her eyes and ears for any further plots against the Drules. Haggar would continually check in on the feline, scrying for threats. It was after all the reason she had sent Coba on ahead of her to Pollux.
“Of course sire. You can rest easy. All is in my capable hands.” Haggar assured him. Lotor nodded, then gestured for several of the Drule soldiers to accompany him inside the castle. The rest were left to mill out in the court yard, with several hundred more inside the ship. With Lotor gone, Haggar was technically in command. A fact she relished, already begginning to bark out orders.
“Find out what is taking General Mogor so long!” She snarled. “I want Avok’s coffin out here, and I want it now! Oh but do be careful….if we jostle him too much, he might get free.” She seemed to be the only one not in a panic over the thought, ten soldiers running up the ramp to check on Mogor and the trapped Avok.
“Do be careful with my brother.” Romelle surprised me by speaking to Haggar.
“Oh I will.” Promised Haggar, turning her creepy smile on the princess. “He is my greatest creation, and I will not have him damaged.”
“You needn’t fear anything happening to your brother so long as Haggar is keeping watch.” I spoke up to reassure Romelle. “She’ll keep him safe for as long as it takes for the Voltron force to arrive on Pollux.”
“I see. Thank you.” Romelle told the witch, who nodded absentmindedly. What did Haggar care about a princess’ thanks, when she had more pressing concerns to attend to. “Sabbath…would you accompany me inside the castle?”
I don’t think I was able to hide my surprise, or my pleasure at her invite. Even Haggar turned back to us, a suspicious look in her eyes. “You best keep your hands off the prince’s treasure…” Haggar murmured a warning in Drule.
“It is not I who is poised to do any mishandling.” I growled back to her. Romelle looked puzzled by the exchange, her head cocking to the side.
“Is there a problem?” She wanted to know.
“Not at all.” I quickly reassured her. “Haggar just worries too much.”
“Worries about what?” Romelle asked, and Haggar smirked.
“Yes, Sabbath, what am I worried about?” I shot her a dirty look, knowing this conversation wouldn’t have happened if she hadn’t made her original comment in the first place. “Well, commander, we are waiting.”
“And you will continue to wait, witch.” I retorted to her, and gestured for Romelle to walk ahead of me io the castle. The princess cast one last look between Haggar and me, before sighing and moving away.
“Prince Lotor won’t like this.” Haggar’s voice was low, but within earshot of me.
“The prince requested that I watch out for her.” I retorted, then moved to follow Romelle.
Haggar couldn’t resist saying one last thing, my sharp hearing picking up on her murmur. “Yes, but who is going to watch out for you?” Ill at ease, I fought the impulse to turn and give the witch one last glare. Instead I stared straight ahead, looking at some spot above Romelle’s head. She was standing before a door held open by a Polluxian soldier, a quizzical look in her eyes.
She waited until we were inside the castle, well away from the soldiers and Haggar’s curious eyes, to speak. “I’ve done something wrong. haven’t I?”
“Wrong?” I questioned, and she sighed, her shoulders sagging.
“In asking you to come with me.”
“No. There was no fault in the request.” I told her. “Besides, Prince Lotor asked me to keep an eye out for you during this dangerous time.”
“The prince did that?” Romelle asked, and I nodded. I couldn’t read her expression, if she was pleased by that or not. “It matters not why you came, just that you did.”
I was confused, and let it show, earning a smile from Romelle. “I wanted to show you my home.” She explained. “I can’t give you a tour of Pollux just yet, but I can show you around the castle at least.”
“You do not want to?” Romelle asked, looking crestfallen. She then shook her head, looking chagrined. “Oh forgive me. I’m sure you have much more important matters to attend to, than putting up with a princess’ whims.”
“I am free for the moment.” I told her with a smile. “And I see no harm in allowing you to show me around your home.”
“Good. Then it’s agreed.” A genuine smile was flashed my way. Romelle was pleased to play hostess. She would take me all over the castle, showing me everything from the large kitchen where the servants prepared the day’s meal, to the guest quarters that would be given to the Drules. Eventually we ended up on one of the castle turrets, gazing up at the rapidly darkening sky.
The air was cold here, but Romelle had refused to go inside. Instead she stood hugging her arms around her for warmth, her long, blonde hair billowing out behind her. Even chilled, she looked beautiful, and far happier here than she had been on Doom.
“Thank you for showing me your home.” I said, interrupting whatever thoughts she had been having as she gazed out into the distance. She smiled and nodded, seeming happy with what she had done.
“Maybe someday you can repay the favor.” Romelle said, then blushed. “Or is that too bold of me?”
“Maybe just a little.” I conceded. “But I think there would be better places to bring you to, other than my home town. Canias is not known for much, being little more than a place for soldiers and slaves to call home.”
“It’s on the other side of Doom.” I explained. “There’s not much to do there, most move out as soon as they can afford to. Generally, the way to earn enough money to do that, is to become a soldier.”
“But a soldier’s life is rough.” She noted and I nodded. “And there is no guarantee you’ll live long enough to be able to move.”
“Life is Canias is never guaranteed.” I couldn’t help the dark look that filled my eyes then. “You either claw your way out of it, or you get swallowed up by the city. Just another lost statistic.”
“And you did that…clawed your way out I mean.” Romelle asked, and again I nodded.
“I had to. That city would have been the death of me.” She shivered, and this time I had a feeling it was not from the cold.
“I take it you’re not a noble then?”
“I couldn’t be farther from that if I had purposefully tried.” I gave a humorless laugh then. “My mother? Nothing more than a slave, a common brothel whore. You don’t get lower than that…”
“I…I’m sorry.” Romelle looked downwards. “I…I really don’t know what to say.”
“It’s not your fault. It’s no one’s. None of us can help who we’re born to.”
“But still…the memories must be painful. I didn’t mean to make you think about them.” Romelle apologized once more.
“It’s okay to think about them once in a while. It keeps me humble, keeps me focused. Even as I advanced in rank, I never forgot my beginnings…or what I had to endure to make a better life for myself.”
“And your mother…?”
“She’s dead.” I said after a moment’s pause. She immediately looked up, alarmed, her beautiful blue eyes filling with sympathy. “She died a few years back, just as I was starting my career as a soldier.”
“How…how did she die?” Romelle seemed to have a morbid curiosity about this, leaving me to try and figure out how much to tell her.
“She was a slave first and foremost.” I finally replied. “They never have a long life expectancy, even those who are only used for pleasure.” Now I turned away from her, struggling to keep my expression composed. I didn’t want to remember, and I definitely didn’t want to tell her that the brother owner, the same Drule who had turned me out on the streets when I was but ten years of age, had beaten my mother to death over some slight offense.
“I’m so sorry…” She apologized. “I know what it’s like to lose a mother. Though the situations are vastly different, we both still suffer the pain of that loss.”
“That we do princess, that we do.” I agreed softly. “I don’t have many…things to remember my mother by.”
“But I bet you cherish the things you do have.” Romelle was confidant of what she was saying then.
“Yes, you’re right about that.” I turned back to her, a bit startled to see how close she had come to me. I wonder if she had debated on touching me for comfort’s sake, then quickly dismissed that as foolish. I looked at her a moment longer, than took her hand, bringing it up so her fingers could brush the ends of the many braids I wore my black hair in. “You see those beads?” I asked her, Romelle touching the jade and magenta colored pieces of round plastic that tied off each and every braid.
“They’re lovely.” She said.
“No, they’re not.” I denied. “They’re cheap pieces of plastic, tawdry remains of a necklace my mother cherished. Some token of appreciation from her owner. He didn’t even try to spend any real money on her. And yet she cherished the necklace. It was probably her greatest possession…”
“You wear the beads to honor her memory.” Guessed Romelle.
“I fought her owner for the right to keep that necklace.” I tried not to growl at the memory. “He had wanted to take it back, to give a dead woman’s most precious belonging to another girl.”
“You fought him?” She squeaked out in amazement. “How old were you?!”
“Old enough.” I answered cryptically. I had been seventeen at the time, and just growing into my body. But I had been at the Drule military academy for two long years and in that time they had taught me how to fight. How to kill if necessary. An aging Drule, fat and unused to a target that could fight back, stood no chance against a boy on the cusp of becoming a man. I was downright brutal to him, making up for the years of mistreatment he had dealt out to my mother.
Romelle was still caressing my hair and the beads, looking like she had no intention of stopping anytime soon. Nor did I want her to, which made me frown and force myself to step back from her. “It’s getting late…” I said, my tone gruff due to how flustered I now was. “It will only grow colder the longer we stay out here.”
“I don’t mind the cold.” Romelle quickly answered. I gave her a skeptical look, noting the short sleeves of her dress. “It’s fine, really it is.” She had colored in response, having noting my pointed stare at her arms.
“Prince Lotor would have my head if you caught a cold just after you recovered from your previous illness.”
“The prince needn’t concern himself with my health.” Romelle retorted, having grown stiff at the mention of Lotor’s name.
“He worries all the same. So do I.” That made her smile, for all the wrong reasons.
“You worry about me, Sabbath?” She stepped closer to me, her eyes watching me face for it’s reaction. It was a struggle to remain devoid of emotion, especially given her delight at my perceived interest in her.
“We should go inside.” I tried again to gain her agreement to this course of action. “Everyone will start to wonder what has happened to us.”
“Everyone surely will.” She sighed then. I wondered if the reason for her sudden upset was thoughts of Lotor, and how he would be waiting for her. “Come commander…” Romelle was suddenly winding her arms around my arm, forced cheer on her face. “I have enjoyed Doom’s hospitality long enough. Now it is time for you to get a taste of the feasts Pollux is capable of putting together.”
I laughed in agreement, always one up for a good meal. We’d end up in the grand dining room of the castle, where her father and brother would soon join us. Even Haggar and Lotor would put in an appearance, everyone enjoying one last meal together. For some of the people present, it would be the last time I would ever see them. Their deaths loomed right around the corner, and it would not be the Voltron Force that would be responsible for the murders.