Songbird 23

I didn’t want to, but I would spend some time recovering in the hospital. My injuries were such that Doctor Shabatoba insisted on it, the old Drule going so far as to administered a tranquilizer among the many shots he gave me. The tranquilizer was fast acting, I didn’t even have time to register my surprise. Nor could I do more than give him a betrayed look, slumping down on the bed.

I would be out like a light once my head hit the pillows. So effective was the tranquilizer that I didn’t even dream. There was nothing but a forced peace to my sleep, and I was out for hours. Even once the tranquilizer wore off, my body needed rest so desperately that I stayed asleep. It wouldn’t be until the next morning that I awoke, and I announced my return to consciousness with an angry shout.

“Shabatoba!”

It was as though he had been waiting for me to awaken, the doctor soon appearing before me. A nurse accompanied him, moving to check on my bandages but I waved her off. She gave a questioning look to Shabatoba, who nodded. She let out a put upon sigh, but left me alone, actually leaving the room to tend to a more agreeable patient.

“Shabatoba, you had no right.” I growled at him. He didn’t try to play dumb, nor did he look bothered by my threatening growl.

“Some would say I had every right.” The doctor replied. “Your injuries are such that you needed the rest.” A pointed look then. “You still need it…”

“That’s not important right now.” I said, moving gingerly off the bed. Pain flared, hot and intense, throbbing through me at my movements. The doctor seemed to sense what was going on, Shabatoba giving me a pointed look. “I’ve left her all alone…” I told him, feeling horrible to have abandoned Romelle during her time of need.

“It couldn’t be helped.” He said, with a shrug of his shoulders. “You both needed this time…time to heal your wounds.”

“Damn it, she may not have the time to do that!” I snapped at him, leaning against the side of the bed. I was trying to figure out what they had done with my shirt, and trying to act as if I wasn’t needing the bed’s support to stay upright. “The prince…”

“Even if you were there….in your current condition, do you really think you’d be able to stop him from abusing her further?” I hated him for that bit of spoken reason, and all because it was true. If I hadn’t been able to stop Lotor before my injuries, what hope did I have now?

“You know I’m right.” Shabatoba added, though there was no smugness in his tone. I sagged in place, defeated for the moment. Shabatoba rummaged through his jacket’s pocket, pulling out a bottle of pills. “These will help to numb the pain you are feeling. Take no more than two every four hours.

I eyed the pills with suspicion, not trusting that they would put me to sleep. The doctor didn’t quite laugh, trying to reassure me. “There’s a mild sedative in there, but nothing that will knock you out on it’s own. It’s not like the tranquilizer I gave you…”

“How long was I out?” I demanded, and he hesitated. “How long?”

“Nearly twenty hours.”

Twenty hours?! That left Romelle alone and at Lotor’s mercy for nearly a full day. What must she be thinking to have been abandoned by me for so long?! “I’ve got to go.” I said, still holding the bottle. The pain flared stronger at my hurried attempt at movements. I had spied my shirt, someone had draped it over a chair in the corner of the room.

“I suppose you do.” The doctor was frowning.

“You won’t try to stop me this time?” I was surprised.

“Commander, I can only keep you from her for a limited amount of time. Sooner or later you will go to her…and the Gods help you both when you do.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked, my own frown mirroring his.

He gave me a look, as though I was stupid. “I may not know all the details of what went down that night. But it’s clear to me you were injured trying to protect the princess from the prince. I dare say you would attempt to do just that again if he attempts to repeat his crime.” He seemed to shudder then. “You barely survived his brutality once…do you really think you could manage to do that a second time?”

I could vaguely remember Romelle being the one to stop Lotor from finishing me off, distracting him to the point he turned his violence on her. I didn’t want to be in that position again, didn’t want Romelle to have to be victimized in order to save me from death at Lotor’s hands.

“No.” I said quietly.

“Then you should think very carefully on what your next move would be.” He watched as I slowly began doing up the buttons of my shirt, a calculating look in his eyes.

“I suppose you have some suggestions for me?”

“Stay away from the girl.” He said, and held a hand for silence when I tried to protest. “I don’t know what your attachment is to her, and frankly I don’t care. No human is worth dying over.”

“Then you don’t know the princess the way I do.” I growled back.

“How well can you say you know her?” demanded the doctor. “No, don’t bother answering. It doesn’t matter. You will die commander, if you keep at a friendship with her. Even I have heard of the prince’s…infatuation with the girl. It’s as bad as the obsession he has with Allura of Arus. Maybe even worse, because unlike Allura, the princess Romelle is within his reach now.”

“All the more reason I have to protect her!” I pointed out, agitated as I pocketed the pill bottle. “Don’t you see doctor? There’s no one left….no one at all…The prince will do as he like, again and again…”

“And he’ll most likely continue long after you have been killed.” The doctor was irritated with me.

“I won’t die.” I insisted. “Nor can I leave things the way they are…”

“You’re a damn fool…” He grumbled. I would have shrugged, but my body hurt too much for even that simple action. Instead I walked towards the room’s exit, listening to the doctor complain. “A damn bloody fool…dying for that which you cannot save…”

Is it really that hopeless, I wondered. And yet I wasn’t changing my resolution to protect Romelle, pulling open the door. The doctor’s voice stopped me, he had one last thing to say. “He never came to see you.”

“He?” I had a pretty good idea I knew who he referred to, but I wanted it confirmed.

“The prince.” Clarified Shabatoba. “He didn’t give a damn to find out if you were gonna live or die after what he did.”

I said nothing to that, walking out of the room. But inwards I was frowning, thinking that this was it then. The proof that the friendship I had thought I had with Lotor had never been real. I had had doubts of it from the moment he began to beat me. That he couldn’t even be bothered to check up on me, to see if was all right after what he had done, well…it hurt. But then the truth usually did.

It also made me feel like a fool, and I was left wondering how I could have ever made the mistake of thinking Lotor and I were friends. Men like Lotor never truly formed attachments, certainly not to other men. He was content to use me for his amusement, and then toss me aside once I became too inconvenient. That realization hurt, but nowhere near as much as the pain my body was in.

I actually stopped in the hall to pull out the pill bottle, looking over the label. It seemed harmless enough, and the pain was so great I ended up swallowing down two pills. All in the hopes some of the throbbing would stop. It wasn’t a fast acting medicine though, and I grumbled under my breath as I continued on my way. It was another early morning in the castle, so there was only slaves and servants to still me shambling along, muttering things under my breath.

Eventually I would reach the corridor where Lotor and Romelle’s apartments were kept. I was determined to see Romelle, and yet now that I was there, I felt doubts and worries fill me. What if Lotor was in the room with her? What if he was raping her even as I arrived? I wouldn’t be able to bear it if he was, and I found myself praying that he had enough sense to leave Romelle alone so soon after he had so viciously hurt her.

The guard I had paid off was standing by the door, half asleep on his feet. But he seemed to become more alert when he recognized me, a sly look in his eyes as he tried to barter with me for the right to enter the princess’ apartment. To get him out of my way, I ended up giving him all the money I had on me, the greedy guard pocketing it all. He didn’t even try to count it, just smiling a satisfied smile as he stepped out of my way.

I fumbled with my card key, half surprised that it still worked on the lock of Romelle’s rooms. But it did, the door opening, the brief chatter of females talking dying down as they turned to see who was intruding on them. I myself was stunned to see them, standing there stupidly in the doorway and counting heads. There was five women in all, and that included Romelle. She was seated on the couch in between two of the women, but when she realized who I was, she slowly rose to her feet.

“You came back!”

I blinked slowly, trying to recover from my shock. Just what were these women doing here? I could see they were slaves by the rags they were dressed in. They might have even been the women who had shared a cell with Romelle, although they had gone through a through cleaning if they were.

“Of course I came back.” I finally said in reply to Romelle’s words. “I promised I would.” I stepped into the room, door falling close behind me. The women were watching me, nervous and wary because of what I was. Only Romelle was different, relief in her eyes to see me. She looked overwhelmed, and I feared she might cry. Had she really thought I had abandoned her? After all I had risked to try and keep the prince off her?

“I’m sorry I did not return sooner.” I told her. “Doctor Shabatoba….he means well, but that doesn’t excuse the fact he drugged me to ensure I would get some rest.”

“He drugged you…” She repeated, and I nodded. “You must have needed the sleep very much indeed.”

“I suppose so…” I sighed, and Romelle gestured for me to approach her.

“Please…sit.” The other two women got off the couch, seeming loathe to share a seat with me.

“I’m fine, really…” But my body was desperate to relax. With a minimal amount of protests, Romelle got me to sit down. She didn’t join me immediately, speaking to the women and sending one to prepare drinks. I didn’t track that girl’s movements, keeping my attention focused on Romelle. The question must have shown in my eyes, Romelle sighing.

“They’re a gift from prince Lotor.” She said by way of explanation.

“A gift?” So they WERE slaves. But I wonder what reason Lotor could have for giving them to Romelle.

She looked downwards, playing her fingers nervously on her skirt. “He claims he is sorry for what happened.” She was angry as she spoke, starting to shake. “That he wants to make it up to me….”

Another shock so quickly on the heels of the first one, my mouth falling open. And then it happened, I laughed, the sound rude and vicious in it’s bitter amusement. “I don’t believe it.” I told her when I managed to calm my laughter. “The only time he’s ever sorry is when his neck is on his father’s chopping block.”

“Truthfully, I don’t believe it either.” She admitted. “But what else could I do…? To reject his gift was to endanger these women. At least with me, they won’t suffer as badly…”

The slave returned with a tray, tea cups that were steaming balanced on it’s surface. Romelle took one for herself, waiting until I began to drink my own tea before taking a sip of hers. I looked at the slave to nod my thanks, and was filled with shocking recognition. It was the very slave girl who Lotor had ordered to whip, the one who had accidentally spilled the wine on Romelle’s dress. That night seemed like it had happened an eternity ago, and I realized then I had never gotten a chance to tell Romelle the condition of the slave.

She recognized me too, nodding slightly in response. “This is Kathryn.” Romelle said, placing a hand on the girl’s shoulder. She then preceded to tell me the names of the other three women, but the wary looks never left their eyes.

“How are you?” Romelle then asked, and I paused with the cup before my lips.

“Isn’t that my question?”

“Oh please. Don’t try to divert my concern.” Romelle said.

“We were both hurt.” I pointed out. “We can be concerned together.”

“Yes, but answer my question first.” Insisted Romelle. She came to sit down besides me, her expression concerned as she looked me over. I knew I wasn’t a pretty sight, with bruises and swelling all over my face.

“Two ribs.” I gruffly admitted. “He broke two ribs.” Her hands began to shake, and I quickly tried to reassure her. “I’m fine otherwise. Just a bit sore…” I set the empty cup aside, patting my pocket. “The doctor has given me plenty of pain medication. Works like a charm.”

“If it’s anything like the medicine the doctor gave me, I don’t doubt that.” Romelle was sad though. I wondered how much pain was being numbed by Shabatoba’s pills, having noted how she was no longer unsteady on her feet. But it was obvious she was still in pain. It showed in the way she moved, every gesture slow and hesitant. There was a soft fabric bandage around her right wrist, confirming that Lotor had indeed sprained it on her.

“I’m sorry.” It was simple, and not able to convey all my regrets to her. She just sighed, and looked away, leaving me to flounder for something to say. I didn’t want to ask if Lotor had tried to have sex with her again, and yet I was worrying about just that. I knew him, he wouldn’t be content with just one time, especially not with a girl who fueled his obsessions so thoroughly.

“I wish I had done something differently…” I ended up saying.

“You did all you could…”

“No, I did not!” I interrupted her. I glanced at the slaves who were huddled over in a corner of the room. They were intent on staying as far away from me as possible. I was conscious of them, and worried they would betray us, all in the hopes of improving their situation by playing spy to prince Lotor.

“We can’t change the past.” Romelle told me. I wondered if she sensed what I had been thinking, how I was regretting not trying to help her escape back when she had asked me to.

“It was wrong of me…” I was remorseful. “I should have…” I trailed off, shaking my head. “You’re right…the past is set in stone, but the future is not.”

“Sabbath?” The wheels were turning in my head, I was trying to think past the pain and the mugginess that was starting to fill me. The doctor had said the medicine had a mild sedative in it, and it appeared to be taking effect. I felt tired, but I fought the urge to sleep, trying to stay focused on Romelle.

“Just be ready.” I said a last.

“Ready for what?” I did a subtle glance at the slaves, trying to hint at how I didn’t want them to overhear. Her eyes widened, and Romelle parted her lips. “Sabbath, I have to tell you something…”

“Princess…” Kathryn spoke up, and I was suspicious of her timing. “Would you like me to refill your cup?” There had been a warning note in her voice, there was something she didn’t want Romelle to tell me. I wondered what.

Romelle looked down at her near full cup, and shook her head. “No, it’s fine. But the commander could use another refill.” Kathryn hurried to do just that, and I felt the woman’s eyes on me as I began to drink. That made me suspicious, Kathryn the slave looking far too eager for me to drink.

“What?” I demanded, and was too sluggish to form a proper suspicion. I could tell there was something wrong with the situation, with this slave, and yet I couldn’t figure out what was bothering me. “What is it?”

“It’s nothing.” Romelle said, and sipped at her tea. I set down my half empty cup, and stood, tense and angry now, and fighting the effects of the pills. “Sabbath, don’t…”

“Don’t what?!” I demanded, and she gave me a pointed look.

“You’re scaring them.” It was true too, the women were wide eyed and clinging to each other. They had seen the anger on my face, and they didn’t like it. I was rueful as I apologized, but I didn’t sit down. Not even when the room began spinning around me, leaving me dizzy and unsteady on my feet. Romelle’s voice was like a distant echo, the girl telling me she was sorry.

“Sorry for what?” I was distracted with how the room spun, and how the slaves’ faces all blurred together as I looked at them. I could remember thinking that Doctor Shabatoba had tricked me again, these weren’t mild sedatives but something powerful. And then I hit the floor, my body screaming in protest at the sudden jarring to it. Even the fresh wave of pain wasn’t enough to shake me out of sleep’s stranglehold, my eyes were already closing.

Voices talked around me, female whispers. Someone was touching me, rooting through my clothing. For what I did not know. And then I heard screaming, the women panicked. I feared it meant Lotor had returned, and didn’t understand they were screaming about my collapse. Someone rushed inside, I would recognize his voice as that of the guard I had paid off. He didn’t react fast enough for Romelle’s liking, she was screaming at him to hurry and bring the doctor. There was a complication with my injuries.

The guard was hesitant, but as the shrieking females continued to badger him, he ran off to do as they said. The shrieks would continue for several more seconds, than die down. I would hear the door open and close, and then nothing. I tried to speak, but my tongue felt too heavy to form the words. And soon I could no longer fight off sleep, passing out for the second time on the floor of Romelle’s apartment.


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