I would leave Romelle’s cell with less than fifteen minutes left to our impending arrival on Doom. No one would think to question my whereabouts, the solider who had been on guard, neglecting to inform Lotor of my visit with Romelle. It was more luck than anything else, the soldier not wanting to approach a still visibly angry prince Lotor. Even the time he had spent in the ship’s gymnasium had not calmed Lotor’s fury down. If anything, the fighting had only served to agitate him more. He was tense, and fearing for his life. He didn’t go so far as to mutter under his breath, but I could see he was deep in thought. No doubt he was reviewing all the things we had suggested to him, trying to decide on what would be the best excuse to give his father.
To some degree, we were all nervous. Mogor and I couldn’t help but wonder if we would be thrown to the wolves, in order to buy Lotor one more chance with the Arus invasion. I considered Lotor my friend, but even I could not predict what he would do next. I doubt even Haggar could have, though she seemed the calmest out of all of us.
That calm disturbed Lotor, almost as much as the knowing looks the witch continued to give, bothered me. She didn’t come out and accuse me of anything, but she had been suspicious ever since I returned from the holding cell area. I tried to pretend it didn’t bother me, but feeling her eyes on my back made me sweat something awful. I couldn’t help but wonder if there would be a price for her silence, nor did I forget that vision of hers, the one that had made the witch determined to see Romelle dead.
But she continued to say nothing, not even alerting Lotor to my unauthorized visit with his fiancee. None of us were in fact doing much talking, just waiting on pins and needles for the ship to land inside the docks. A squadron of the King’s personal guard would be waiting for us, those red and gold colored uniforms putting fear into all our hearts.
The captain of the King’s personal guard was tall, even for a Drule. He towered over those in his command, and stared up at us, with a face blanked off all emotions. Zarkon’s guards never smiled, at best they could manage was a grimace. This time none of them bothered to do an honorary bow to welcome their prince home. They were all stiff with tension, hands held at the ready by the blasters on their hip’s holsters. It was a clear threat, they were prepared to open fire should Lotor cause any trouble.
“Let’s get this over with.” Lotor grumbled under his breath, trying for anger to disguise his fear. “Mogor, greet them!”
“ME?!” The general wasn’t pleased, and had to be shoved by Haggar before he would walk down the ship’s ramp. He held up his hands to show he as harmless, several of the soldiers eyeing him before surrounding him.
“So that’s how it’s going to be.” A displeased Lotor said. A sound from behind us alerted us to Romelle’s arrival. She had her hands in cuffs, and a length of chain hobbled her by the ankles. She fought as the Drule soldiers dragged her forward, chains rattling from her furious motions.
“Lotor…” She hissed and tried to lunge forward, though what Romelle thought she would do, I did not know. The soldiers hauled her back, preventing her from getting close to Lotor. He barely paid her any mind, save to look displeased at her arrival. This was not the right time to be showing he had the princess as his prisoner, the captain of the King’s guards bellowing out an order in Drule.
It seemed they were tired of waiting for the prince to come down, a dozen soldiers marching up the ramp to take us all into custody. Including Romelle, the princess shrieking, struggling harder. It would earn her a slap across her face, both Lotor and I reacting with savage growls. Haggar nervously cackled out laughter, amused that both of us had reacted to protect Romelle. But it was with different motivations, Lotor reacting with the anger of someone mishandling one of his possessions. I merely reacted with the outrage of seeing someone I was coming to care about, treated so cruelly.
“Be gentle with her!” Lotor snarled at last. “That is my future wife, the soon to be princess of the Doom Empire!”
The guards didn’t laugh at that. One might even say they gave him a look that said they thought him a fool. Lotor didn’t like that, anymore than he liked seeing Romelle dragged past him. The princess wasn’t fighting as hard, she seemed dazed from the slap. Her pretty face would be bruised, the guard who had hit her hadn’t bothered to curb his strength.
“Where are you taking her?!” Lotor demanded, trying to move past the soldiers to follow the princess. The captain stepped in front of him, hands on his hips as he blocked Lotor’s pursuit.
“Your highness, King Zarkon would have a word with you.”
“Not until you tell me what you’re doing with Romelle!” Lotor growled, looking as though he would swing a punch at the other Drule. Another guard stepped near to him, grabbing both of Lotor’s arms. The prince immediately began struggling, trying to get free. “Damn you, let me go! What’s going on?!”
“Prince Lotor of Doom, you are hereby under arrest for your failures on planet Pollux.” The captain was calm. “Your father, King Zarkon is prepared to announce judgment on you.”
“Judgment? Oh man…” Mogor muttered, but he wasn’t trying to fight the soldiers that had surrounded him.
“He knows…?!” Lotor gasped, the captain nodding.
“There is not much that gets past the great King Zarkon.”
Haggar ambled down the ramp, none of the soldiers daring to touch her or her familiar. “The prince has a right to a hearing. The King cannot play judge, jury and executioner without hearing his son’s side of the story.”
“The King is prepared to listen.” But from the look on the captain’s face, he didn’t seem to think it would make much of a difference.
“Then take us to him.” Ordered Haggar, and the captain nodded. I too would find myself surrounded by soldiers, though no one made a move to restrain my arms. All of us were free to act save Lotor, who was cursing and making threats as they dragged him through the castle’s corridors. He talked of retribution, of how he would make the captain and his squad pay for this treatment. No one laughed, nor did they take him seriously. They were sure he was a dead man walking, and many of the servants turned away at the sight of us.
The walk to the throne room would seem to go on for a small eternity, and all due to the delays Lotor caused with his struggles. But even that could not keep us from Zarkon indefinitely, the four of us being ushered before his dais. The throne room was not empty, the entire court was present, with both soldiers, and the men and women of the nobility. A hush filled the room as Lotor was forced to his knees. The rest of would also kneel, even Haggar who complained about her bad knees.
“Father!” Lotor shouted, his voice seeming to echo in the too quiet room. “What is the meaning of this? How dare you treat me in this manner. What are you thinking? How can you treat your only son–”
“Enough Lotor!” Zarkon’s voice seemed to have the booming strength of thunder. It was enough to drown out Lotor’s voice, the prince not quite flinching as Zarkon pointed his golden scepter down at him. That scepter had a pointed end, it would make an effective projectile should Zarkon decide to use it. And I knew he was capable of just that. In my three weeks at court, I had seen him grow angry enough to spear a man on it’s pointed tip, all over some slight that shouldn’t have earned anyone a death sentence.
Zarkon was seated at the top of the dais, leaning forward in his seat as he continued to point with his scepter. “I will not tolerate your righteous indignation. Nor will I allow you to pretend you don’t know why you have been brought before me in this manner.” The scepter seemed to bob, punctuating his words. Always it remained pointing down at Lotor, tip gleaming.
Wisely, Lotor did not make any false claims, staring sullenly at his father. Zarkon seemed to nod to himself in approval before calling on his captain. “Read the charges Captain Adamentius.”
“Yes, your highness.” With a flourish, Adamentius shook out a scroll. It was almost comical the length of the paper, the captain begginning to read off the list of Lotor’s crimes. It wasn’t just Pollux he mentioned, he brought up Lotor’s failures over the last three weeks. The prince’s face grew angrier and angrier as he listened to this, I was surprised he didn’t start to growl.
“More recently, you are charged with failing the Doom Empire with regard to it’s interest in both planet Arus and planet Pollux.” Continued Captain Adamentius.
“That wasn’t my fault!” Lotor quickly protested. “None of it was!”
“Silence Lotor!” Zarkon snapped, then nodded for the captain to continue.
“Not only did you allow Voltron to have free reign upon Pollux, you allowed it to destroy a valuable robeast. You did nothing to prevent Arus and Pollux from joining forces to beat back our ships, if anything you helped instigate matters further. Pollux was not destroyed, and Arus still remains free. And perhaps you’re greatest offense was that you sought to hide this from your King.”
“I had to learn from that brat Bandor of your failures!” Zarkon scowled then. “That insolent whelp actually called me to issue a declaration of war on Doom!” I had no doubts that Bandor would have filled Zarkon in on every detail of the battle on Pollux, right down to the fact Lotor had killed his father, and taken his sister prisoner.
“I wasn’t trying to hide this from you!” Lotor protested.
“Oh?” Zarkon arched one scaly, black eyebrow. “Then what were you hoping to accomplish? Hmm? Did you think to come up with some way to spin this so it didn’t look like a complete and total failure?”
“Yes?” Zarkon gave Lotor his complete attention, even as he radiated keen disapproval. “What is it?”
“The fault is not to be found with me! Or my actions!” Lotor was speaking through gritted teeth now. “If anything, the problem lies in the robeast I was given.”
“Are you saying Avok wasn’t adequate for the job?” Zarkon demanded, then glanced at Haggar when Lotor nodded. “Well witch? What say you? It is your work he is calling into question.”
“Avok was my strongest robeast yet. He lasted the longest against Voltron, may have even come close to defeating that infernal robot. There was some set backs yes, but ultimately I believe we can come away from this defeat with valuable knowledge” said the witch. She was not angry, nor frightened, her expression as serene as she could manage. “The data I have collected, will allow me to make stronger, faster robeasts…ones able to pinpoint Voltron’s now known weaknesses, and use them to their advantage.”
“The data doesn’t matter.” Lotor said in a dismissive tone. “It’s Haggar’s robeast that failed. It doesn’t matter how long it lasted against Voltron, just that it was defeated!”
“A defeat one could say you helped quicken, in unleashing our ships against Avok!” Zarkon smirked then. “Oh yes Lotor, I know everything. Bandor was explicit down to the most minute detail.”
“He was taking too long!” Lotor snapped. “I merely sought to help take down Voltron. It is not my fault our robeast was caught in the crossfire.”
“Hmph.” Zarkon leaned back in his seat. “I say you were an impatient fool. Wouldn’t you agree General Mogor?”
It was an awful position to be put in, and I was glad Zarkon hadn’t questioned me. It was the sort of situation where you were damned if you did, and damned if you didn’t. Either royal would be angry with you, depending on how you sided.
“Uh….” Mogor was hesitating a tad too long, seeming to sweat under the combined gazes of both Lotor and the King. “I couldn’t say your highness.” He finally said. “I..in the midst of all that fighting, I’m afraid I was distracted with trying to keep alive.”
Zarkon sneered. “And so you saw nothing?” His gaze turned to me, and I tried to keep my eyes from widening. “And what about you Commander Sabbath? What did you see?”
I didn’t want to hesitate, feeling the weight of the entire court’s stare on my back. “I saw our prince doing his duty. He killed the enemy King, that same King who would betray us all. He killed any and all that got in his path. If not for Voltron’s interference, I dare say all of Pollux would have been destroyed.”
“Sire, if I may.” Haggar added her own claims to what I had said. “On the prince’s orders, the armada managed to dwindle down Pollux’s population by at least one hundred thousand deaths. And there was a handful of cities that were destroyed before the call to retreat came.”
“And just who gave that order to retreat?!” demanded Zarkon.
“Not I!” Lotor proudly claimed. “Even with the flag ship torn apart by Voltron’s own hands, I would have been content to let our armada continue to fight. However…when they saw Voltron on the horizon, saw the robot had joined forces with Pollux, it was your own soldiers, men and women trained to know no fear, who chose to abandon the mission.”
From the look on Zarkon’s face, he would be calling on the commanders of each of the fifteen fleets that made up the armada that had accompanied Lotor to Pollux. And all to personally question and punish them. It was tantamount to treason in the Doom Empire to abandon one’s mission. Little could be said to excuse such an offense. Not even if it meant the commander had been thinking of the lives he would save in ordering the retreat.
“So you see father, it is not all my fault…”
“But there is fault to be found in you!” Zarkon practically lunged out of his seat, pointing his scepter at Lotor once more. “You have become a bumbler, a fool ever since you laid eyes on the princess of Arus! What’s more, you are making the same mistakes with the princess of Pollux. Is it not true, your lusts for Romelle is what drove you to try and speed up Voltron’s defeat? All because you could not wait a few seconds more to get her in your bed?!”
“No, Lotor. If I were to ask the General and Commander, I bet they could confirm these suspicions of mine!” Zarkon was shaking with his anger. He wasn’t that far off from the truth either, Lotor had been spending far too much time thinking about molesting Romelle.
Mogor and I exchanged nervous glances. Neither one of us wanted to be put on the spot, called to tell Zarkon what we knew about Lotor’s obsession with Romelle.
“You should have spent more time preparing for the battle with Voltron!” continued the King. “I should have known you would have screwed things up when you asked me to marry Romelle. You and your lust for human women lead us to nothing but trouble!” He was waving his scepter around now, gestures wild. “Bandor wants his sister back. I have half a mind to humor him.”
“Father no! Romelle is mine!”
“She is not yours!” Zarkon bellowed. “You think I would reward you, would allow you to have her after that debacle on planet Pollux? You’ll be lucky to keep your head when I am through!”
“BUT NOTHING!” roared Zarkon, placing his foot on the top most step of the dais. “The only reason I allow Romelle to remain here on Doom is that neither I, nor my Empire give in to other worlds’ threats and demands. It would be pure folly, not to mention insulting to cater to a planet as weak as Pollux by giving Bandor back his sister. No, she can rot in the dungeon’s for all I care! Rot until we find a suitable use for her…”
Lotor didn’t like that, anyone could read his upset on his face. Zarkon noticed it too, and let out a mean snicker of sound. “I wouldn’t spend my time worrying about her. Not when you have your own neck to save. You’ve failed me four times in quick succession against Voltron. You’ve even managed to secure peace between two centuries long enemies. I do not yet know what havoc the alliance between Arus and Pollux will cause, but I do not like it one bit!”
“If you would just give me one more chance…” Lotor began, sounding almost desperate.
“One more chance? I have given you FOUR chances!” roared Zarkon. His free hand suddenly grabbed his chest, Zarkon continuing to gesture wildly with his scepter. “It is painfully clear to me, you will never succeed. Never!”
“Sire, do not be hasty!” Haggar called out, sounding alarmed. “He is your son, your only heir…”
“No one is irreplaceable, not even Lotor.” Zarkon growled. But his voice sounded weaker. I didn’t think he was growing hoarse from all the shouting he had done. I had born witnessed to him bellowing for hours at a time, this moment should have been nothing to him.
“You’ll disrupt the empire if you kill him!” protested Haggar. “It takes time to make a new heir, and even longer to wait for that child to come of age! And that’s not even taking in your physical condition, your age…You might not be able to conceive another child this late in your life.”
“I am perfectly healthy old witch!” snarled the King. His voice was growing fainter though, and he continued to clutch at his chest, claws digging into the heavy velvet of his robe. He looked disorientated, sweat beading on the sides of his face. I didn’t know for certain what was happening to him, having never seen the King suffer so much as a sniffle. “I can and will make Lotor’s replacement…count on it…”
He had been stalking down the dais’ stairs as he talked, wobbling uncertainly when it happened. He suddenly gasp, the scepter falling from his hand as he grabbed at his chest. We all watched in morbid fascination as Zarkon teetered on the edge of a step. What else could we do? There was no way anyone would reach him in time. The great king, the mighty Zarkon fell, his body all but bouncing off the stairs.
He would roll to a halt a few inches from the kneeling Lotor. The prince looked as shocked as everyone else, staring at the crumpled form of his father. We were all inactive until Haggar screamed, the witch lurching up off her kneels to scurry over to her King.
“What is it witch?! What’s wrong with him?!” Lotor was demanding.
“Captain Adamentius! Clear out this room at once! No one is to remain save for us four, and Zarkon’s personal guard.” Haggar ordered, and glared when the captain tried to protest. “DO IT!”
“Yes Haggar!” the guards began ushering the nobles out of the room. Those Drules were protesting, they all wanted a ring side seat to the drama that was about to unfold. The soldiers present moved to help the guards drive out the nobles. I found myself standing with Lotor and Mogor, hovering behind the kneeling witch who was running her hands over Zarkon’s body.
The King was staring without seeing, eyes glassy. The once gold gleam of them was now a sickly yellow, giving him a feverish look. Haggar moaned and began to chant, trying to figure out what was wrong. Her hands began to glow, she was whispering some healing spell that gave Zarkon enough strength to speak.
“Oh the pain…I can’t stand it. Haggar do something!”
“I am trying sire!” Haggar tried to sound soothing, but her voice was panicked.
“Father!” Lotor knelt down besides Haggar, seizing Zarkon’s hands. I wasn’t sure what was behind his concern, surely he didn’t care that his father was sick, and possibly dying.
Zarkon clasped hold of his son’s hands, the sweat continuing to bead on his skin. “It struck all at once…”
“You must rest…” Lotor told him.
“I can’t rest! Who will conquer the universe when I’m gone?!” demanded Zarkon. “Witch! Use your power at once! The pain is like a fire inside me!”
“Do not fear your majesty! I will call upon the blackest of spirits to attend to you at once!” she promised.
“Then do it quickly!” ordered Zarkon with a moan. “My strength is fading.”
Haggar took her hands off of Zarkon’s chest, and began chanting in some long forgotten language. Her eyes turned a shimmering neon green color, power radiating off her aura. She continued to chant, voice growing louder and more desperate. We watched as she began to sway, and it was I who caught her when she collapsed with a scream.
“The dark spirits have given me a message.” She croaked out in a whisper to me. She gestured me to bend closer to her, putting her cracked lips to my ears. “They tell me to save Lotor’s father from this terrible sickness, he must give him a magic medicine. A medicine which is made from berries which only grow on the planet Arus.”
I looked up at Lotor who had knelt down on the opposite side of Haggar. “Did you hear?”
“Yes. And I don’t like it.” Lotor scowled at her. “You just want me to battle Voltron again.”
“You must do this Lotor.” Haggar turned towards him. “If you accomplish this task, your honor will be restored…the people will forget about Pollux and your previous failures.” She gestured him closer, whispering then. “As long as you bear the shame of defeat, they will never accept you as King. But if you do this, even if Zarkon should expire before you return, your ascent to the throne will be assured.”
Lotor liked that, a glimmer of a smile hinting at the corners of his mouth. “Take a small squad with you. If you move fast, you’ll never even be detected by the Arusians. Voltron can be avoided if you take care.” Continued Haggar. Zarkon was still moaning, tossing and turning in place on the floor.
“I’ll get those berries.” Lotor said, turning to look at Zarkon. “Count on it!” Haggar was relieved, seeming to sag in my grip. She was so exhausted from communing with the black spirits, that she too had to be carried out of the room on a stretcher. Zarkon would received similar treatment, being carried to his private chambers. Lotor would disappear, but not before giving orders to myself and Mogor. We were to gather a small group of our best soldiers, and get a ship refueled for the trip to Arus. I wondered if we would be successful, not wanting to think of the state the Empire would fall into should Zarkon die. I had a feeling Lotor would still fight for the throne, the backing of the people be damned. But it would be easier for him in the long run, if he regained the people’s faith by saving his father.
In a way Zarkon’s collapse was fortunate to us all, saving Lotor from the beheading the King had been sure to grant him. But more than that, it was fortunate for Romelle, putting her out of reach of Prince Lotor. She seemed to be forgotten as the prince rushed off to make preparations for Arus, and perhaps that was the kindest thing that could have happened to her on Doom.