The guards didn’t take me very far. We didn’t get more than a few corridors away before I was collapsing to my knees. My injuries were such that it had taken a great effort to remain standing in the King’s presence. Now that he had dismissed me from his sight, and the adrenaline had worn off, the pain had become too much to bear. I was badly in need of doctor Shabatoba’s care, in no shape to make the journey to my own home.
With grumbles and reluctance, I was half carried, half dragged to the medical wing inside the castle. Doctor Shabatoba was waiting, the Drule almost nervous as he watched me stumble into an exam room. He would quickly dismiss the guards, the men eager to get away. It wasn’t part of their job description to watch over the sick, they’d much rather be where some action was.
Doctor Shabatoba and a nurse immediately set out to stripping me off my shirt. The nurse just barely managed to retain her gasp, the woman staring at the bruises all over my body. It was an array of them, new ones on top of old ones, mottled yellows and browns, and even purple in one section. I’m sure she had never seen a Drule of my rank so beaten, commanders tending to deal out the abuse not take it.
A bitter reminder whispered through my mind. I wasn’t commander of anything now. The shock was starting to set in, letting me process just how far I had fallen in the ranks. I knew I should be grateful. It could have been worse, Zarkon could have called for my head on a silver platter. Instead he had merely demoted me, dropping my rank down by two.
The nurse was gently washing the blood off my face. I sat there unblinking as she did this. I wouldn’t miss the concerned look she exchanged with Doctor Shabatoba, the man dismissing the nurse from the room.
“Just what happened commander…?” Shabatoba asked, approaching me with a thick roll of white gauze in his hands.
“Lieutenant.” I corrected him, my voice sounding hoarse. “It’s Lieutenant now…” His eyes widened. Surely Shabatoba understood the significance of my demotion.
He tsked, and began winding gauze about my torso, securing it so it fastened tight, but not to the point I’d be squeezed. “Was it worth it Lieutenant?” I looked at him blankly. “The girl…was it worth all this trouble to try and protect her?”
“I’d do it again in a heartbeat.” I instantly replied, feeling a bit heated that he couldn’t understand my desire to protect Romelle. “She’s worth protecting.”
“Even if you can never have her?” The doctor wanted to know. I blinked slowly, then shook my head.
“Having Romelle was never part of the equation.” I thought back to Haggar’s words, how the witch had pitied me as she told me Romelle would never love me. Was the witch right? Did it matter? I think I had always known she was untouchable, barred from me. First because of Lotor’s interest in her, and then the betrayals that followed the incidents on planet Pollux. And yet Romelle had surprised me on planet Nieve, being so fiercely loyal to the Drule she viewed as her sole friend on Doom. She shouldn’t have really cared what happened to me, especially after the treatment she had received at Lotor’s hands.
But I wasn’t that surprised that she did. Romelle was proving not to be the type to judge an entire race based on the actions of a few. Even if those actions had been crimes that were near unspeakable, things so horrific and traumatic, she should have been reduced to a shell of her former self. But Romelle was proving to be strong, to be a survivor. I hoped that she’d continue in that way, especially now that I was to remove myself from the castle for the time being.
“I don’t really understand you.” Shabatoba said, using the adhesive to glue the gauze in place. “I wonder if you even get why you’re doing all this either…” I tried to shrug, and that move pained me. Shabatoba sighed, and shook his head. “Most of the time I think you’re a damn bloody fool!”
“And the others?”
“I almost admire you.” He was grudging then. “It’s good to have something to fight for…even if I disagree on what that something is.” He stepped towards his black bag, rifling through the contents. “You’re probably not fond of pills right now, but you’re going to need to take some to deal with the pain.” I grumbled but other than that, did not protest. “I want to keep you here for observation….at least for the next few days. You think you can get the time off?”
“Time off is not a problem.” I told him. “The King has told me to leave and not come back until summoned. Somehow I get the feeling he won’t take too kindly if I do my convalescing here…”
The doctor frowned. “I suppose it can’t be helped then. I’ll have to set up some at home care for you…Just for the next three days…”
“Is that really necessary?” I wanted to know.
“I won’t feel comfortable otherwise. Relax, it won’t be around the clock care. Just someone to come in and check on you every few hours. I’ll leave the rest to your slaves…”
I grew sheepish then. “I uh…don’t actually have any slaves of my own.” Shabatoba’s eyes widened.
“None at all?” He demanded, mouth agape. “Not even a pleasure slave?”
“There’s just been no need.” I was uncomfortable with this subject. I knew I could more than afford the upkeep of a few slaves, even with my now decreased salary. But I had reasons for not bothering to purchase slaves of my own, finding I spent more time away from my home than in it. If cooking or cleaning needed to be done, I could hire out a temporary servant. And I had never been comfortable with the idea of having someone tending to my every need, as though I was too incompetent to do even the simplest tasks for my self.
As for pleasure slaves, well I had seen how the women at my mother’s brothel had been treated. It might make me unusual, but I had wanted no part in forced affections, in having a slave feign enthusiasm at the thought of being with me. I much rather court a woman the proper way, and have her come to return my affections.
“I don’t feel comfortable leaving you alone then.” Doctor Shabatoba said when he realized I wasn’t going to offer him a deeper explanation. I grumbled but didn’t protest when the Doctor proceeded to make arrangements for at home care for me.
“Doctor…” I hesitated, knowing this might be too much to ask of this man. “If you can, would you do me a favor?”
He was instantly on guard, Shabatoba as wary as he was curious. “What is it you want me to do?”
“It’s about the princess. Could you look out for her in my absence?” I asked. “The King has seen fit to barring the prince from her, but I’d still feel better to know there was someone I trusted watching over her.” The doctor looked ready to say no, and I hurriedly continued. “The King…I don’t know what, but he has plans for her. Plans that you could use to your advantage. You could easily arrange visits with her, all on the pretext of keeping her healthy for whatever Zarkon intends to use her for…”
“I suppose I could do that.” The Doctor was still reluctant.
“Please do.” I all but begged him then. “It would allow me to rest more easy. Otherwise I’m liable to do something even more foolish than I already have!”
“And we can’t have that.” Grumbled Shabatoba. “Fine, Lieutenant. I will do this. I’ll even go so far as to contact you with progress reports about the girl’s treatment.”
“I’m grateful.” I told him.
“Hmph.” He sniffed, looking haughty in the moment. “Well, I suppose I can’t keep you here any longer…” He pushed pills into my hand, which I pocketed. “I’ll arrange for someone to drive you home.”
“I’ll meet them at the docks.” I said, reaching for my shirt. My movements were slow and exaggerated, I tried not to wince as I pulled the top on. “But right now I want to say good-bye to Romelle.”
“Are you sure that’s wise?” Shabatoba asked. “You might not even be allowed to see her now that you’ve been demoted.”
“I have to try though.” I insisted. “And there’s a chance word hasn’t reached the dungeons yet of my demotion.” Doctor Shabatoba tsked, and shook his head, walking away without another word. I sighed at his exit, finishing buttoning up my shirt, before gingerly getting off the exam table.
I would then leave the hospital, begginning the walk to the castle dungeons. The stairs that led down into the bowels of the castle were located some distance from the medical wing, and in my state, it seemed to take forever to traverse the corridors. Nor would it be uneventful. I would come across a brown cloaked figure, and even from the back I recognized who that person was.
~HAGGAR!~ Instantly my fangs were bared, a silent snarl being expressed. My first impulse was to rush after her, to grab and slam her in the wall, to even punch the old crone. The pain of my body kept me from acting, as did the thought that the witch could incinerate me with one blast of her magic.
I decided then to ignore her, to go on my way as if I hadn’t seen her. But the witch made it impossible, smirking as she drew near. “Lieutenant…”
“Witch!” I growled, trying to look menacing.
“It’s such a shame about your demotion. Falling out of favor with both the King and the prince.” She made a tsking sound then. “Was all of this really worth it Sabbath?”
I was getting asked similar from all manner of people, my head nodding resolutely. “Yes!”
“You should have just killed the girl when I asked you to!” Haggar grumbled. My hackles rose, I was even more angry now that she had said that. But I managed to keep from letting that anger cloud my judgment completely.
“Why haven’t you done it?” I asked. “If she’s such a danger I mean?” Haggar hesitated, looking nervous. “Or do you fear the prince’s wrath so much, that you didn’t want to get your hands dirty? Is that it? You wanted to eliminate the threat without any suspicion being cast on you?”
“You were the perfect candidate to do this.” She retorted without answering my exact question. “You were close to the princess, she trusted you. It wouldn’t have been hard to slip a dagger between her breasts.”
“Were?” I questioned sharply. “You speak in the past tense witch…why is that?”
“King Zarkon now has an interest in the girl.” Haggar sighed, looking upset. “If something were to happen to her now, he would be…greatly bothered by it.”
“Is she that important to his plans now?” I demanded, wondering how much information I could wring out of the witch.
“Yes.” She allowed me that knowledge. “She’s of vital importance. The time to end Romelle’s threat is no more…destiny will play out….one way or another…”
“Does that mean you’ve given up on trying to kill her?” I wanted to be sure, to have the witch confirm she would not be making any attempts on Romelle’s life.
“It’s unfortunate but yes…” Haggar then glared at me, eyes narrowed. “None of this would have happened if you had ended her life on Pollux! You’d still be commander Sabbath, the girl would never have known betrayal or rape at Lotor’s hands. It’s all your fault what has happened, this inaction of yours holding the potential to damn us all!”
I gasped, the witch having poked a clawed finger against my chest, right over where my heart beat. I didn’t like that she blamed me for what had happened to Romelle, but the truth was she was right. I had been inactive, my refusal to do anything about Romelle’s imprisonment leading to her suffering at Lotor’s hands.
“You don’t know that for certain though.” She was unsettled, stepping away from me.
“It’s a gamble yes.” Haggar agreed. “Just as I never know for certain if a robeast will win against Voltron. I’ve no guarantee that trouble will manifest itself because of Romelle’s contnued survival….but if it was up to me, I’d have ended the threat of her for sure.”
“But it’s not up to you…” I called out to her, the witch having proceeded to walk away. “It’s in the Gods’ hands now…”
“And that worries me all the more.” Came Haggar’s soft murmur. I stood staring after her, wondering if fate was really inescapable. Maybe everything that happened was part of some grand design, some plan that would ultimately lead us and Doom to either greatness or an end. I couldn’t know for sure though, and yet I was slowly on my way to becoming disillusioned with not only my King and prince, but with the way things were done in the Doom Empire.
I would be thinking about this as I made my way to the dungeons. It bothered me that I was the only one to try and stand up for Romelle. The soldiers onboard the ship to Nieve, had been hiding their feelings when Lotor abused her. Hell, they had hid their true thoughts while had he had had ME beat. No one had tried to interfere, no one had asked the prince not to do it. I suppose it could have been because they knew he would have killed him for their interference, but…what sort of people allowed their leader to kill based on whims and momentary anger?
Lotor was like a spoiled child, a three year old throwing tantrums when he did not get his way. He was quick to resort to violence, to solve his problems with the slashing of his sword. The people under his command shouldn’t have accepted such behavior, and yet they did. It wasn’t just Lotor, other high ranking Drules were known to abuse those lower then them in the chain of command. Why did we all accept this, why did we continue such cycles of abuses?
I was well familiar with how the soldiers thought. As a low ranking soldier, you spent much of your time trying to stay off the radar of other Drules. You might even hope to one day gain enough power to deal out the same abuse you had received. No one tried to change the system, they just continued the abuse of power. No wonder we were so vicious, if that’s how it was in our military.
I knew with my demotion, I was now in danger. I never went out of my way to make enemies, but sometimes you don’t have to do anything to earn a person’s dislike. I was doubly damned when one considered how angry Lotor was with me. He could make arrangements for my life to be made miserable upon my return to active duty. And yet I still insisted on going to Romelle, bluffing my way through the dungeons. I didn’t exactly lie, but neither was I truthful, allowing the guards on duty there to believe I was still a commander.
Romelle was back a cell that contained all female prisoners. It was as dank and dirty as any other in this dungeon, the mud already staining the hem of the princess’ dress. She wasn’t concerned with that though, hurrying over to the bars, gripping them as she stared at me. “What is happening Sabbath?”
“The King has dealt out punishments to the guilty parties.” I informed her. “I’ve been demoted to Lieutenant…” I lowered my voice to a whisper, though no other Drule was near. Romelle gasped, hand flying to cover her mouth.
I nodded, grim. “I’m to leave the castle shortly. I’m not to return until the King calls for me.” She looked panicked at the thought of my leaving, reaching through the bars to clutch at my hands. “I’ve made arrangements to have Doctor Shabatoba check in on you frequently. You will not be alone during this…”
“But you’ll be gone…” Romelle whispered sadly.
“Gone, but you’ll always be in my thoughts. And the Gods willing, I’ll be back soon enough.” Not that I thought I could do much more for her, regardless of when I returned to the castle.
“There’s more…” I hurriedly cut her off. “You’re safe from Lotor for now. The King has placed him under house arrest. He’s expressly forbidden him to come near you. Unfortunately you’ll have to remain in the dungeons but…”
“I’d rather the dungeons than suffer one more minute in Lotor’s presence!” Romelle said fiercely.
“I’m sorry I can’t make things better for you.” I added with a sigh. “But I now lack the power to enforce things. Shabatoba is doing a great favor to me by agreeing to monitor your situation in my place…”
“I’m sorry…” Her eyes went downcast. “It’s my fault you were demoted…and beaten.” I reached through the bars to gently cup her right cheek. She looked up at my touch, surprised.
“There’s nothing to apologize for.” I told her. “You did what you had to, to escape from him. I can’t blame you for that.”
“Yeah…” A weak sigh, Romelle still looking sad.
“Stay on guard Romelle. The King is plotting. I don’t know what, but he intends to use you in his schemes…” I heard footsteps approaching, and did one last caress of her cheek. “I have to go now….”
“Stay well Sabbath…” Romelle ordered of me. “I don’t know what I’d do without you…” She was about to find out, the upcoming weeks’ separation being tough on the both of us. But in different ways. I nodded, then did a low bow of respect to her, before turning to face the approaching guards. They looked alternately annoyed and apprehensive, as if they couldn’t believe I had tricked them.
I would be dragged from the dungeons, and promptly escorted to the docks. A transport would be waiting for me, along with a soldier to drive me to my home. I was allowed no more delays, being forced to leave the castle, practically in disgrace. I didn’t care, couldn’t relax, my only concerns with the girl in the dungeons. Romelle lay heavy on my mind, and there was nothing or no one who could change that fact.