It would take nearly two days to travel to and from Arus, even at our ship’s top speed. We brought only two ships as our back up, they were sleek and small in size. Small enough that we weren’t detected by Arus’ planetary sensors. It seemed the Gods smiled down on us, favoring us to get close enough to the berries. Of course the plans didn’t go down completely without a hitch, we weren’t that blessed.
Especially when Lotor came across Allura and some of the servants of her castle. I’m sure he thought himself fortunate to encounter her. Especially since she had been so foolish as to go berry picking without her guards. I was amazed, wondering what was the chances that the princess and her entourage would be picking the very berries we needed to save our King’s life?
Fate had a very twisted sense of humor, allowing Lotor to be so close to Allura, only to walk away without her. It was that damn Voltron Force that interfered, rescuing Allura and her servants, and rousing the lions of Arus to do battle with our plant beasts. Those trees that had been brought to life by a witch’s magic, stood no chance against the lions. And even when they combined into one mighty beast, it didn’t last long. Not against Voltron’s blazing sword.
However, all was not lost. While Lotor was distracted by the battle, Mogor and I, along with several soldiers, hurriedly picked as many berries as we could. No one on Arus was aware of what we were doing, too focusd on the prince and his robeast. Whole baskets of berries would be loaded onto one of the ships, Zarkon would have his medicine.
To Lotor, the defeat of his plant robeast was another crushing defeat. But our mission hadn’t been to battle Voltron, or to take over Arus. It had been to get the berries. And that we succeeded in. Lotor hardly seemed pleased, angry he had come so close to Allura and lost her. He would sulk the entire journey back to Doom, and occasionally I would hear him grumbling about how his father better be grateful for what he had done.
Haggar was waiting for us when we arrived back on Doom, the witch eager for the berries. We had brought more than enough for her purposes, the witch’s eyes gleaming as we carried whole baskets off of the ship. She would have Mogor bring a basket to her laboratory, and there she would secloister herself for seven whole hours. And each hour, the tension seemed to grow, until even Lotor felt it.
“What’s taking the witch so long?!” Lotor demanded, pacing outside his father’s room. I could only shrug, having no sure answer for him.
“It’s a specific kind of medicine.” I said at last. “It’s probably delicate work…something that cannot be rushed.”
“If she takes any longer, my father will die before that medicine can get to work!” Lotor grumbled. I didn’t know what he was so agitated by, he had accomplished what he set out to do. In the eyes of our people, they would see him as the devoted son, risking his life against Voltron to get those berries. They would find it a pity that the berries hadn’t been able to save Zarkon, but they would no longer stand between Lotor and the throne.
I couldn’t help wonder what the Doom Empire would be like under Lotor’s rule. If things would be made better or worse. Once I would have assumed Lotor could only improve things, but that was before Pollux. Before I saw how he acted over Romelle and Allura. Could someone so delusional where women and love was concerned, really make a fit King? I wasn’t so sure, and hated the doubts that filled me.
These doubts, as hated as they were, were becoming a natural part of my every day thoughts. When I wasn’t worrying about what kind of King Lotor would be, I was worrying about Romelle. I wondered how she had survived the dungeons of castle Doom, and my anxiety mounted as I realized I wanted to sneak away and see her. But with the crisis of King Zarkon, there hadn’t been any time. I hadn’t even had the chance to tell Romelle I would be leaving for Arus.
Not that I thought she would miss me. I was still assuming she hated me as much as she hated any Drule. I couldn’t know that two days spent in a cold cell, with no friendly faces to talk to and soothe her, was giving Romelle another view point of our relationship. She was coming to appreciate me, to appreciate the friendship we had had, and to long for the small acts of kindness I had shown her on our journey to Doom.
Romelle was actually begginning to fear she might never be the benefactor of a kind act again, the girl trying not to despair completely. Not when she knew her youngest brother still lived. Bandor’s continued life gave her a more lasting purpose than revenge, Romelle wanting to return to his side, and help him become the kind of King she could be proud of.
She knew she had to live, if only for Bandor’s sake. She’d take what comfort she could get out of her situation, and that included deepening her bond with me. But before any of that could happen, before I could visit with her, the situation with Zarkon had to be resolved.
“Finally!” Lotor’s exasperated voice called out, the prince slowing to a halt. He was glaring at one end of the hall, hands on his hips as he watched Haggar running towards him. She held a medium sized bottle in her hands, some pinkish red potion sloshing about in the glass container. “It took you long enough.” Lotor added with a scowl.
“I had to be extra careful in mixing the ingredients.” Haggar wasn’t even out of breath, even though she had surely run all the way here from her laboratory. “Too much of the berry’s juice, and the medicine will become poison. I had to take into consideration the King’s weight and size, and determine the precise amount of juice to use.”
“Hmph.” Lotor made a scoffing sound then. “This had better work old witch.” He grabbed the bottle from her, Haggar protesting.
“Careful sire! We mustn’t spill it! Not even a single precious drop.”
“I won’t.” Lotor said, and gestured for her to go in ahead of him. He would do the same for me, but as I glanced back at him, I saw him staring in consideration at the potion inside the bottle. I couldn’t know what was on his mind just then, but later he would tell me. Of a witch named Zondra, and how she had advised him to poison his father. Lotor would admit to me how tempted he had been to do just that, and even outside Zarkon’s bedroom, he had struggled with his indecision over what to do.
“Coming your highness?” I asked then and there, seeming to startle Lotor out of his thoughts.
“Yes, I’m coming.” Another look at the potion, and then Lotor was striding into the bedchamber. Zarkon’s moans greeted him, the King delirious and unable to lay still. He continually tossed and turned, trying to get comfortable. It was a comfort that would elude him, Zarkon almost crying out in frustration.
“Quickly prince Lotor!” urged Haggar, standing on one side of Zarkon’s bed. Lotor nodded, than looked at me.
“Hold him down.” He said, and I held back a sigh. I would crawl into bed with Zarkon, gripping his shoulders and pinning him down against the mattress. Lotor would join me in the bed, bringing the bottle’s uncorked opening to the King’s lips. If not for my holding him down, the King would have lashed out, causing the precious medicine to spill.
The medicine was forced down Zarkon’s throat, and at first he began to choke on it. But some of it got down his throat, and that revitalized him. Enough that he began swallowing it down on purpose, until he was greedily sucking on the bottle’s opening. He sucked until every drop was gone, and actually licked his lips clean. Lotor and I immediately backed off the bed, waiting to see what would happen next.
We would wait only a handful of minutes, before Zarkon grinned, his eyes opening. He would attempt to say something, only to have a scream come out of him. It set the hairs on the back of my neck rising, never had I heard such an awful sound.
Zarkon quickly grabbed at his throat, and Haggar let out a dismayed sound. She thought she had poisoned the King through her miscalculations. The witch actually fell to her knees, begging his forgiveness. Zarkon continued to scream, and suddenly he leapt up off his back, and onto his feet. He swayed on the bed, not exactly balanced on the mattress.
“Wonderful! Just what I needed, a magic potion!” Zarkon laughed, and flexed his right arm. “I feel stronger than ever! Strong enough to take on ten robeasts in the arena!”
“Sire!” Hagagr was so relieved, she didn’t even try to calm him down. The old witch looked like she might even shed a tear, so great was her happiness.
“Lotor?” Zarkon appeared to notice him for the first time. “What are you doing here!? Why aren’t you dead?!”
“Ah…it was prince Lotor who went and got the berries needed for your cure.” Haggar was quick to explain. “He risked life and limb to go to Arus, and pick the most crucial ingredient to the medicine I made for you.”
“You did that?” Zarkon seemed shocked.
“That’s right I did.” Lotor confirmed, crossing his arms over his chest. “So you better be grateful!”
Zarkon considered him a long moment, before nodding. “I am, I am. Never did I imagine my son could be so devoted as to risk himself to help out his father.”
“I hope that gratitude extends towards giving me a reward.”
“A reward? Well, I suppose you’re entitled to one.” Zarkon nodded his head as he thought about it. “Very well Lotor, I will give you one more chance against Voltron. Hell, I will give you ten more chances if that is what it takes. But I want you to defeat that robot, and conquer Arus for me!”
Lotor scowled. “That wasn’t the kind of reward I had in mind!”
“Well, that’s the only reward you’ll get!” Zarkon snapped. “Be grateful you’re not dead Lotor..”
“Oh I am…but I’d be more grateful if you let me marry Romelle.”
“You’re still stuck on that girl? I am disappointed in you, Lotor!” Zarkon tsked.
“Romelle is mine!” Lotor hissed. “I earned the right to her, I captured her…I should…”
“You earned nothing where that girl is concerned!” snarled Zarkon. He was still standing on the bed, as if that was the most natural thing in the world. He placed his hands on his hips, giving Lotor a considering look. “Romelle is barred from you until further notice.”
“What? Why?!” Lotor demanded, looking outraged.
“I know you Lotor. You will be so focused on her, you won’t be able to function to win against Voltron!” Casual, Zarkon began to walk to the foot of the bed. Only Haggar moved to steady him, her arms held out to catch him in case he should fall. “You need to be free of both these princess’ spells. You need clarity of mind….some time and distance may help strengthen you. And if that doesn’t work, perhaps proper motivation will.”
“Careful sire.” Haggar said, trying to catch hold of his hand as Zarkon moved to jump off the bed.
“I was sick Haggar, not made an invalid!” Zarkon retorted, annoyed.
“What kind of motivation?” Lotor asked, suspicion in his tone.
“I will consider giving you your heart’s desire.” Zarkon said, striding over to a mirror. He began examining his reflection, though what he hoped to find I did not know. “In other words, the day you defeat Voltron, is the day you can marry Romelle. And not a minute sooner!”
“That’s not fair!”
“Oh ho ho! So even you lack faith in your ability to destroy that robot, and deliver Arus into my hands.” Zarkon smirked at his reflection. “Really Lotor, if you’re that incapable of winning, you should just tell me now so that I can replace you.”
“Replace?!” sputtered Lotor.
“Of course, I don’t accept losers as either my family or my heir.” Zarkon continued as though Lotor hadn’t interrupted. “I won’t kill you, if you admit Voltron is too much for you to handle, but I will replace you.”
“I would never admit to such a thing!” snarled Lotor. “I can and will defeat Voltron! I will prove you wrong, will outdo everyone’s expectations of me!”
“Now that’s the kind of talk I like to hear!” Zarkon actually purred in approval. “Go now son. You and Haggar have to plan your next mission to Arus. I expect you to leave by this time tomorrow.”
“So soon?” Lotor frowned, and Haggar raised her voice in protest.
“Sire, I couldn’t possibly have a robeast ready in such a short time. I haven’t even had a chance to study the data gathered on Voltron, what with my concern about your condition…”
“Concern is for the weak. I’m sure you had plenty of down time while waiting for Lotor to bring you the berries.” Zarkon turned then. “Go now. Make your plans…and do try not to disappoint me this time.”
“Yes, sire.” Haggar and I bowed, but Lotor continued to stare at his father.
“Problem Lotor?” Zarkon asked.
“None at all…” Lotor seemed to hold back a sigh, giving a grudging bow to his father before moving to walk out of the room. Haggar and I hurried after him, Lotor not trying to hide how much he was seething inside. “Who does he think he is?!” Wisely neither one of us pointed out that Zarkon was our King, just watching as Lotor stalked down the hallway. “Making demands, giving me orders…barring me from Romelle!”
I couldn’t sympathize with him, too relieved that Zarkon had inadvertently saved the girl. At least for now. I don’t think Haggar felt any pity for the prince either, not when she wanted Romelle dead.
“Cheer up sire. I’m sure Zarkon will after a time lessen the restrictions he placed on you where the princess is concerned.”
“He better.” Grumbled Lotor. “He makes unreasonable demands….his expectations too high. How can he expect me to defeat Voltron without the proper time to prepare for our next encounter?!”
“We will think of something.”
“We better, witch!” Lotor growled in threat. “I want Voltron defeated. Not just defeated, I want it destroyed, and with it all of Arus’ hopes and dreams crushed.”
“Yes, yes,” Haggar was nodding rapidly in agreement. “You will defeat Voltron. Arus will fall, it’s people enslaved…”
“And with it no longer a problem, both princesses will be mine!” Lotor finished up with a smirk.
“Er yes…” Haggar didn’t look thrilled at that idea. “You will get what’s coming to you, as far as the princesses are concerned.”
“I better.” Lotor snapped, seeming not to notice the way Haggar avoided looking at him. “Go…pick out the best robeast we have left in the arena. Amplify it’s powers as best you can.”
“What will you be doing?” I asked, and Lotor rolled his eyes.
“I will be picking out the best ships and soldiers for this mission. Maybe just maybe, with a lot of luck, we will gain a victory.” He suddenly clapped a hand on my back. “By this time next week, we might be dancing at my wedding!”
“Maybe.” I tried to hide my lack of enthusiasm at that thought. Lotor, lost in his own delusions of how wonderful married life would be for him, didn’t notice. But Haggar did, the witch eyeing me sideways. She continued to give me that odd look, even after Lotor had vanished down a different path from us. “What?” I demanded gruffly of the witch. “Why do you look at me in that way?!”
“You’re going to see her, aren’t you?” Haggar demanded.
“Her?” I played stupid, pretending not to know who she meant.
“Romelle!” Haggar was impatient with my act. “Don’t try to deny it. You stink of concern for that girl.”
“And so what if I do?” I asked defensively. “It’s no crime to show her some kindness….” Haggar hmped at that. “If Lotor has his way, she will be the future queen of Doom. I would think you would be trying to cultivate a relationship with her.”
“She won’t have any real power. She’s all but beneath my concern…”
“Does that mean that trouble you saw has been averted?” I asked her, truly curious about this.
“Hardly.” Haggar grumbled then. “As long as she continues to live, we are on a collision course with destiny. I still don’t know what form that trouble will take, but it cannot be good. For any of us, but especially for Lotor.” She fixed me with a sly look. “You’d save Doom a lot of trouble if you just killed her now.”
“Think of it as a mercy killing. The girl is miserable here, and will continue to be so for as long as she is our prisoner.” Hagger sighed. “Lotor will make things worse for her, the second he gets a chance. You know he will. His lusts will get the better of him. If you kill Romelle, you would be saving her from that as well as Doom.”
“I will not do your dirty work for you witch! And if you so much as look at Romelle funny, I will inform Lotor of your desire to kill her.” I was threatening her, even knowing she could strike me down with her magic at any moment. I was honestly surprised she didn’t lash out at me then and there, the witch just sighing.
“I will never understand what it is about human women that make Drule men so irrational.” She tsked then. “Especially blue eyed blondes. Lotor is afflicted by them, and even you suffer. Hell, his father had the same problem with Lotor’s mother.”
“What about Lotor’s mother?” I knew that she had been a slave, and a human one at that, but I didn’t know much more about the woman who had given birth to the prince.
“It’s not important.” Haggar began to walk away from me. “It’s really such a pity commander. You could have saved us all a lot of suffering if you had just done this simple thing and killed the girl.” She tsked again, her voice echoing back to me. “Whatever happens next will be on your hands….I hope you can shoulder that burden.”
Uneasy, I stared after her, wondering and wishing she could tell me exactly what she had seen. And why did Romelle have to die? Couldn’t the trouble Haggar had seen been just as easily averted by sending Romelle away from Doom? But then, I suppose Haggar knew as well as I did, that Lotor would never allow Romelle to escape him. He’d most likely shrug off any of her visions as nonsense, Lotor continuing along the course to his damnation.