Songbird 28

My home is located less than an hour’s ride from the castle. In a city called Kesodonia, where many a noble and high ranking military official live. The deeper into Kesodonia, the more fancy the houses become. The prices for those houses followed suit, so that only the richest of nobles could afford to make a home in the heart of the city. My own apartment was located on the outskirts of Kesodonia, amidst many other ambitious military personnel. It was a sector filled with my own kind, men and women who didn’t have a noble upbringing, but had managed to buy into respectability.

Suffice it to say, my rent wasn’t cheap. Enough that I was concerned that my Lieutenant’s pay wouldn’t be enough to allow me to retain my apartment in the long run. But for now I had enough savings to be able to continue to live in Kesodnia. If I couldn’t win back my commander’s salary, I’d have to start looking elsewhere to live. Once that would have bothered me, but now it merely earned a grumble of annoyance.

What did it matter if I was to lose my current home when I was far more concerned with the happenings at the castle? Particularly the dungeons, and the fate of one imprisoned princess? Keeping me away from the castle, from Romelle, was a far more effective punishment than that of my demotion. No doubt Zarkon had known enough of the situation to realize that, and had acted to punish me in a manner that would hurt the most.

Of course I wasn’t completely cut off from the goings on at the castle. I had Doctor Shabatoba to rely on. But I could only gather a civilian’s view point of what was happening, Shabatoba not privy to a more knowledgeable view of the Empire’s plans. Frankly a lot of what he told me, was no more informative than the daily news holos.

Those holos were always reporting on Lotor’s failings. And there was many. Seedlings of plans I had seen planted months ago, would come into bloom now. But too little did they bear fruit, the plots ultimately doing little to the people of Arus save to provide small nuisances. Those poisonous flower seeds our ships had scattered onto Arus’ surface? They eventually grew to cover the entire planet, the people falling ill from their fragrance. Even the princess of Arus fell victim.

And yet luck was on the humans’ side. The poison pollen could be negated by a different kind of flower, a rose found only on the planet Lyra. Lotor would be allowed to travel to Lyra, to lay a trap for the remaining members of the Voltron force. Only one would come, and though our forces had attempted to destroy all the flowers some seedlings remained.

Those seedlings were brought back to Arus, a cure being made and administered to the princess and her people. The people would recover in time for another attack from Doom. Hagger’s carnivorous rats came into play, the creatures attempting sabotage inside the castle. When that didn’t work, they came together to form one giant robeast. It was another failing on Haggar’s part, her monster dying on Voltron’s blazing sword.

Lotor would manage an encounter or two with Princess Allura. Those moments weren’t broadcast on the holos, the castle’s PR trying to downplay the prince’s obsession with the princess of Arus. I only learned of them through Doctor Shabatoba, the man privy to both Zarkon and the prince’s very public arguments. It appeared Lotor had gotten so close to Allura on one such occasion, he had been inside her bedroom. And still she had managed to escape him.

Romelle could have suffered in her cousin’s place, but Zarkon’s orders still stood. Lotor was barred from coming near her, so long as he continued to keep success out of the Empire’s hands. Plan after plan would be enacted, and no matter what Doom attempted to do to Arus, the Empire would lose.

Subsequently, deaths were on the rise at the castle, Lotor and Zarkon both so angry they were more murderous than usual. Heads would roll, and backs would be speared, father and son taking out their disappointments on any convenient target. It was not a good time to be at the castle. I dare say if I had retained my commander rank, I too might have been killed for Lotor’s failures. After all, the prince was busy blaming any and everyone he could. People were rising in rank at a rapid pace, only to die within days of their promotions.

There isn’t much to talk about regarding Romelle during these times. The princess spent an endless amount of time in the dungeons. It would have appeared she had been forgotten completely, although Lotor and Zarkon were both biding their time. There was a plan brewing, something in which the King felt the princess was integral to. But Doctor Shabatoba could not guess as to what. He simply continued to watch over Romelle, keeping her healthy for the day Zarkon would have use of her.

It was torturous being away from Romelle. I worried constantly, and not even Shabatoba’s reports could reassure me completely. I needed to see her with my own eyes, see for myself that she was as well as could be given her situation. Romelle needed the same thing in regard to me, the girl desperately questioning the doctor about my health and activities. It felt good to be in her thoughts, even if much of them were things that kept her worrying needlessly.

I was slow to heal, having retained injury upon injury on Lotor’s orders. A broken rib wasn’t an easy thing to heal. There was virtually nothing I could do, save to rest and stay off my feet. Certain acts would send sharp pains shooting through me, even breathing too deeply was painful. I experienced swelling about my body, and not just over my ribs. I had been pummeled so often, I was covered in bruises, though they eventually faded.

It would take nearly six weeks for my ribs to heal completely, and by that time the bruises had faded. I no longer looked so pathetic, and the swelling on my face had gone down so that I no longer saw a stranger when I looked in a mirror.

It would be just over two months before Zarkon demanded my return to active duty. Enough time had gone by that I thought he had forgotten all about me. But when the orders came, I couldn’t hurry fast enough to the castle.

Loud whispers seemed to herald my arrival, the gathered Drules in a tizzy. I didn’t know what had set them off, but knew enough to realize something of importance was about to happen. I shouldered my way through the crowd, angling for a position to the front of the group. As I did this, I picked up stray tidbits, certain things standing out among the whispers.

The gathered nobles were speaking about a marriage, of Lotor finally being tied to a woman. I couldn’t help but feel alarm, thinking of Romelle in the dungeons. Could Lotor have finally gained permission from his father to wed the princess? Did Lotor even still want her in that manner? Had Shabatoba mislead me on the situation surrounding Romelle, to the point Lotor had gotten over his disappointments and once again sought her hand?

With growing unease, I retained a position near the front of the crowd. Close enough to the throne that Zarkon was sure to see me. But he gave no acknowledgment of my presence, did not so much as meet my gaze with a nod. It only fostered my worry. I began to think Zarkon had called me back to the castle for a specific purpose, a punishment. Surely the King would have known how much it would have pained me to see Romelle wed Lotor. It would have given him great amusement to watch me try to remain composed during the official ceremony.

Sick with worry, I would remain apart from the conversations all around me. Lotor would arrive some time later, Captain Adamentius escorting him before the throne. That surprised me, and led me to believe Lotor was still under house arrest. The prince himself wore an angry scowl, a hand on his hip as he glared up at his father.

“Well, father?” Lotor demanded with an angry drawl. “What now? What scheme have you come up with this time? How will you have me attempt to defeat Voltron? Another great weapon? Another one of Haggar’s robeasts?”

There was an undercurrent of weariness to Lotor’s words. Zarkon had worked him hard during my two month absence. Plan after plan going into effect and failing. It appeared Lotor was as sick of failure as the rest of us, though it might just have been he was tired of doing his father’s bidding. Tired of being imprisoned in the castle, set free only to enact his father’s plans to conquer Arus.

“Worry not my bumbling son.” Zarkon seemed in good spirits, especially given the contrast of Lotor’s mood. “I’ve not called you here for another attempt on Arus.”

“Oh?” Lotor was more wary than shocked. If I had been in his position, kept away from the gossip of the court, I too would have been worried. I would have assumed Zarkon had finally tired of my failures, and was moving to dispose of me. “Then what?”

Zarkon wasn’t ready to make his big reveal, leaning back against his throne. “Lotor, you’ve been working too hard lately.”

“And whose fault is that?” Lotor demanded, tone impertinent.

Zarkon took no offense to Lotor’s tone, looking far more relaxed than I had ever seen him. “I’m thinking you need a break from it all.”

“A break?” Lotor was suspicious, immediately voicing his concerns. “Doom cannot afford for me to rest easy. Not while Arus and it’s robot are still a threat! Father, they’ve moved on from just defending their own holdings. The Voltron Force is actively going to other worlds, attempting to free them from our grasp. There is no time for breaks, not until Voltron is defeated, Arus subdued.”

“Worry not Lotor. You are not the only one I can rely on to continue the fight against Arus.” Zarkon’s retort was practically purred out, leaving me to wonder who he had in mind. The same wonder was in Lotor, the prince naming names.

“Then who? Haggar? Mogor?” He snorted then, but wasn’t amused. “Their incompetence knows no bounds.”

A scowling Haggar stepped out of the crowd, her blue kitty riding across her shoulders. The cat shared her glare, staring at Lotor with ugly menace. “I would not speak of incompetence if I was you, young prince. Not after you had Allura four times in your grasp, and lost her each time!”

“That was…”

“That was what Lotor?” demanded Haggar. “What was it, if not incompetence of a magnified sort. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear you were messing up on purpose where she is concerned!”

Haggar’s retort angered the prince enough for Lotor to take a step towards her. The air turned menacing, Captain Adamentius grabbing hold of Lotor. The prince struggled, trying to get free while the witch let out an angry laugh.

“You go too far witch!” Lotor snarled.

“I go not far enough!” She replied. “I come up with the perfect plans, the perfect robeasts. And you waste them each time!”

“I would not be calling attention to those monsters if I was you.” Lotor hissed. “They all died at Voltron’s hands. They were all imperfect creations that ultimately cost us victory!”

Haggar gasped in response, but before she could get out more than a few words, Zarkon was speaking over her. “As amusing as this all is, I did not call you here Lotor to watch you trade blame with my witch.” Lotor and Haggar were still glaring at each other, the prince not responding to his father. “Let go of your anger, and show some interest boy!”

Only Zarkon could get away with calling Lotor a boy. Though in truth the King had called the prince far worse names than that. Sullen faced, Lotor turned back towards the throne, gazing up at his father with an expectant look in his eyes. Zarkon nodded grudgingly, seeming appeased for the moment. “That’s better.” He raised his scepter, tapping the end of it on the floor three times in quick succession. It was a signal for the guards to pull open the main doors, trumpets heralding the arrival of someone important.

We all turned, the crowd and I, even Lotor. I expected to see Romelle being dragged into the room, the whispers of Lotor’s impending marriage heavy in my mind. But it was not the princess of Pollux who strode into the room. Instead it was a statuesque red head, the woman far taller than Romelle. Her dress was far less modest than anything Romelle had ever chosen to wear. Colored in black and yellow silks, the woman’s top was more brassier than bodice. A generous portion of her top had been cut away, so that the globes of her breasts were on tempting display, as was her belly.

The red skirts trailed down to the floor, covering her feet and extending behind her. Her arms were bare save for expensive silver and gold bracelets. For all the flesh she exposed, this woman surprisingly kept her face covered. A veil extended from over her nose to down past her chin. I was surprised to note she wore a crown, a jade creation that’s center piece extended into that of a cobra.

The murmurs of the nobles continued, growing louder as this woman was introduced. “Presenting Princess Corral of planet Demos.”

The guards were forcing the crowd to open up a path to the throne’s dais. This princess Corral walked with her head held high, a small entourage accompanying her. The men and women of her escorts would stop at the edge of the crowd, leaving their princess to approach the throne alone.

I glanced Lotor’s way, seeing his eyes had narrowed, his lips turning down in a frown. He didn’t know who this girl was, didn’t understand why a human could walk unmolested to the throne. He was even more surprised when Zarkon stood up, a great fang flashing smile on his face as he gave welcome to the princess. “Greetings Corral. It is good of you to join us.”

Princess Corral bowed her head in acknowledgment, drawing to a stop a few inches from Lotor. The prince looked her over for one brief moment, eyes lingering on her exposed cleavage. She was generously gifted in that area, and even Lotor could not resist staring even though he was uneasy with the princess’ arrival. But then he scowled, and whirled around to face his father.

“Father, what is this?”

“A surprise my son!” Zarkon continued to grin, his eyes intent on Lotor. “I’ve invited Princess Corral here with a specific purpose in mind.” He paused too long, all in order to build up anticipation for his next words. “Princess Corral will be your bride.”

Those words of his sent the nobles into a frenzy, gasps and chatter erupted from the crowd. I myself sagged with relief, realizing it was not Romelle who would be forced to marry Lotor this day.

Lotor himself had gone stiff with shock, staring up at his father with a displeased expression. Zarkon’s expression was more smirk than smile, the King enjoying Lotor’s reaction.

“Princess Corral is from Demos. I’m sure you have heard of them.” Zarkon was saying. He spoke not just to Lotor, but for the benefit of the gathered nobles. “The Demos Empire is mighty, strong enough to rival Doom’s. The Demos Empire is the terror of the next galaxy over, having subjugated many a world and it’s people. Demos’ reputation is that of strong, evil minded people who get what they want. If we unite with them through this marriage, there will be nothing and no one to stand in our way. Not even Voltron!”

He knew how to play to the crowd, the nobles letting out an ecstatic cheer. They liked the thought of increasing the empire’s power, liked the thought of finally defeating Voltron. Lotor however, was more concerned with how this marriage would affect his plans, the prince continuing to scowl.

“And what of Allura?”

“You must forget Allura!” It was Haggar who spoke, the witch approaching Lotor. He turned to look at her, the witch coming to a stop next to Corral. She gestured at the princess, Corral studying Lotor intently. “The interest of the Empire prevails!”

Corral at last chose to speak, her voice a pleasing lilt. Her words were foreign though, not many in the room could understand her. I caught her name being spoken amidst the babble, and then she was reaching up to remove her veil. Her face was as lovely as her body was pleasing, rosy red lips smiling shyly at Lotor as she went down to her knees.

Lotor scowled at her, before rudely turning away. “Hmph.” It was a clear dismissal on his part, but Corral didn’t seem to take offense.

“She is in the midst of learning our language. And take note! She is shy and pretty.” Haggar was trying to extoll Corral’s virtues.

“You behave with disrespect.” Zarkon told Lotor.

“And why not?!” Lotor demanded angrily. “You don’t respect my feelings in this!”

“Stop whining! You have no feelings!” Zarkon was angry now, pointing his scepter at Lotor. “You are an instrument of evil as I raised you to be!”

Lotor did not back down, rushing up the steps of the throne’s dais before anyone could stop him. “Father!” His tone was urgent, Lotor near frantic. “Corral is an alien! She’ll be unhappy here! If I can wed Allura you can have Arus and all that you desire!”

I thought it ironic that the argument he used against Corral could be applied to Allura as well. The princess of Arus would no sooner be happy on Doom, than any other alien woman. And yet Lotor didn’t give a damn about Allura’s unhappiness, too desperate for her.

“Give me one more chance father!” pleaded Lotor.

“Fool!” Zarkon bellowed out his anger. “This marriage will unite the two most evil forces in the universe! Think of the beauty of it, our power will be supreme!”

Lotor seemed to ignore what his father was saying, all but begging for another chance to get Allura. “Just one more chance father! I’ll find a way to capture Allura!”

“Let the prince have his way in this.” It was Haggar who spoke now. Lotor was as surprised as Zarkon was annoyed, the two men looking towards the witch now. “And if he should fail in this, he will cease all his protests and marry Princess Corral with a smile on his face.” She gazed at Lotor, who was still recovering from his surprise. “Is that agreeable to you, Lotor?”

He nodded. “I won’t fail in this. Allura will be mine!”

“Just remember….you agreed to this marriage before all of my court.” Zarkon told him. “When you come crawling back to Doom, with your tail between your legs, you WILL marry Corral.”

Lotor didn’t dignify that with a retort, hurrying past Corral without so much as a glance in her direction. Captain Adamentius hurried after him, no doubt working under Zarkon’s orders to follow the prince.

“Do you really think that was wise?” Zarkon demanded of the witch. “We only serve to encourage his delusions.”

“Let him dream for a little while longer.” Haggar retorted. “In the meantime, I shall prepare for the wedding.”

“Do that.” Zarkon said, giving a little dismissive wave to the witch. He retook his seat, and his eyes sought mine out in the crowd. “Ah Lieutenant. So good of you to join us.”

“My King.” I dropped sharply into a respectful bow, pleased my ribs did not protest such a movement. “What work would you have me do?”

“The princess Corral will be in need of a guide. Someone to show her the way of things on Doom, as well as protect her from any unfortunate happenings.” Zarkon told me. My eyes widened in understanding. He expected someone, maybe even Lotor, to make a move against the princess. “I am appointing you as Corral’s personal guard. Do well and you may find yourself gaining back your previous rank.”

“Yes, sire.” I stepped away from the crowd, walking towards the kneeling Corral. Haggar said something to her in the Demosian language, the princess rising off the floor. She turned to me, and her eyes gave me the once over before Corral smiled a shy smile. I couldn’t muster a smile for her, but I did give her a respectful bow.

“This is Lieutenant Sabbath.” Haggar was saying as she gestured towards me. “He will tend to your every need.” Corral nodded in understanding. I wondered how much of our language she really understood. Did she know of Lotor’s attempt at rejection? What did she think of Lotor’s rude behavior, of the way he had hurried out of the throne room? Corral may not have been fluent in Drule, but she was not stupid. She could read the atmosphere around her, enough to know of Lotor’s displeasure.

And she was curious, a fact that became apparent as I attempted to lead her away from the throne room. “Lieutenant…” Her voice was accented, tongue faltering on some of the more growled out sounds of my language. “Who….who is Allura?”

I paused, uncertain of what to tell her. My hesitation had her stepping closer to me, the princess laying a solicitous hand on my arm. “Allura? Who is she?”

I wasn’t sure how I could explain to her, how I could compress Lotors obsession into simple enough words for the princess to understand. “She is the one Lotor….wants.” I refused to say he loved Allura. I felt Lotor was incapable of that emotion. Corral’s red eyes were curious, her head tilting to the side. “She is a princess of another world….an enemy of the Doom Empire.”

“Ah…” Corral’s eyes lightened with understanding. “Forbidden love.”

“Something like that.” I was uncomfortable, and longing for a chance to sneak away and see Romelle. But there was obstacles in place, and not just the fact that I was to shadow Corral’s every movement. Doctor Shabatoba had made mention of how Zarkon had increased the numbers of guards on duty in the dungeon. I had doubts I could bluff my way past that many, knowing it would be a long time if ever before I got to see Romelle again.

Corral was sighing, sounding wistful. I glanced back at her, and saw the thoughtful look in her eyes. The wheels were turning in her head, though what she was thinking I could not know. Nor did I try to pry, my own thoughts more consumed with my own problems and that of Romelle’s. I was conscious of one thing though, well aware as assignments went, guarding Corral wasn’t too difficult a hardship. I could have done far worse upon my return to the castle, and I wondered why Zarkon had given me such a break.

It was a question that would go unanswered, the next two days of my life spent playing tour guide to Corral. She’d often ask me about Lotor, the girl curious about her future husband. I tried to answer as best as I could, though I was conscious that the King would not like it if I badmouthed his son to the princess. I wouldn’t know it then, but Corral was coming up with her own scheme, one that would thwart the plans of both empires.


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