She wasn’t quite running, her heels clicking smartly on the polished tile, Adaline holding onto her heavy skirts with one hand so they did not drag across the floor. A guard, no doubt a spy of her husband, followed at a hurried pace, his hands wringing together anxiously. He wasn’t trying to stop her, not exactly, though he kept giving voice to his uncertainty about her venturing to this part of the castle.
Adaline did not so much as spare the soldier a second glance, ignoring his suggestions that she turn back. She couldn’t, not when there was a child’s well being at stake. She only hoped the rumors had proved wrong, Adaline flinching to think of a child left all alone in a place as horrible as Castle Doom’s dungeons.
She tried to tell herself that her husband couldn’t be that cruel, that he couldn’t possible be so sadistic as to let a child, even one of his enemies alone with all the countless dregs of Drule society. And yet a part of her insisted he really would do such a thing, which is why she had gone running from the ladies parlor, fiendish laughter chasing on her heels.
Thankfully it hadn’t been her husband who had broken the news to her, Adaline suspecting Zarkon did not want to deal with the temper she would rouse if the rumors were true. He underestimated her, and the gossips that lurked in this castle if he thought she wouldn’t get wind of this latest piece of news. Her cheeks burned with anger and humiliation, Adaline recalling how the beautiful Drule ladies, bitches all of them, had held a whispered conversation near her.
It was no exaggeration to say they had staged the conversation, the ladies of Doom’s court wanting Adaline to overhear them. They had no concern for the child they talked about, giving only a brief mention to the child. No, they had been more consumed with hurting Adaline with the news of her home world’s imminent fall, gloating how their King had finally found the perfect tool to use to cement his hold on Arus.
As much as it hurt her to think of Arus as falling to Doom’s conquest, Adaline pushed back her upset. It had been many years since she had set foot on Arus, and she had gone through a lifetime of changes. But even the harshest of tortures on Doom couldn’t erase all of her compassion, especially to children. It was something those Drule females didn’t understand, not realizing it was their idle mention of the child that sent Adaline running from the room.
And now she was here, descending down the stairs to the basement floor of the castle, her guard escort horrified at her audacity. Adaline would have smiled if not for the seriousness of her mission, the woman having learned she could go almost anywhere in the castle so long as she maintained her confidant swagger. It might shock and dismay the guards, but it amused her husband to see her move about the castle as though she had a right to go anywhere she pleased.
The lights grew even dimmer the lower she went, the stones walls turning dirty, grime and fungus growing on the blocks. She gave care to not brush up against the fungus, not knowing what sort of illness she could catch from it. Her steps became less hurried, Adaline taking care on the staircase. The guard reached out a hand, but fell short of touching her, knowing the penalty was stiff for handling the king’s wife without his permission.
Clearing the last step, she arrived in the dark and dank dungeon, her nose wanting to wrinkle at the filth and decay she could smell emanating from the cells. Once again she prayed that the rumors were wrong, not wanting to contemplate the damage that could have been done to the child’s mind.
“Lady Adaline!” The dungeon master appeared before her, looking stunned to see her. “What are you doing here?!”
She knew her visit was a surprise, Adaline having never set foot in the dungeon, even at Zarkon’s invitation. She had never developed a taste to watch the dungeon master at work, not wanting to see skin flayed and bloody as he whipped and tortured those in his care. Much of her husband’s amusements were hardly her idea of entertainment.
“I’ve come to see the child.” Adaline announced, and moved to go around the dungeon master. He was a big man, even for a Drule, with muscle that bordered on fat. He blinked those silver cat’s eyes at her, and stepped to block her way once more. She frowned at him, and placed a hand on her hip. “Do you dare stop me?”
A staring contest was held, Adaline’s blue eyes boring into the dungeon master’s silver gaze. He was not used to women glaring at him, and her determination and force of will seemed to back him down. He sighed then, and stepped aside, Adaline holding back all urges to wilt in relief.
“What cell is the child in?” Adaline asked, taking a step towards the barred gate of the dungeon. The dungeon master’s subordinate looked for permission and got it, the man hurrying to unlock and lift the gate so she could enter.
“Go with her.” Ordered the dungeon master, tone gruff. “This is no place for a lady.”
She was already passing through the gate, blinking at the darkness that was only broken up by dim lanterns of light. The subordinate followed her, a brighter lantern in
his hand, allowing her to see further than a few inches. It also allowed her to be SEEN, and from the shadows of the cells came voices. Some were pleading, broken rasping voices that begged for freedom, insisting they had done nothing. Others were angry, calling her names, calling her Zarkon’s whore, and a traitor to the human race.
And still there was a third set of voices, obscene offers spoken to her, wicked catcalls as sex starved men got their hopes up that she would be put in a cell with them. She pretended to remain unaffected by them all, allowing no pity for those broken voices, no anger to those who deemed her traitor, and certainly showed no reaction to the most obscene of cat calls.
Head held high, and eyes looking straight ahead, she walked briskly through the dungeons, passing through the heart of it and coming to the very end. And not once did she hear a child’s fearful cry, Adaline almost collapsing with relief. A relief that did not last, for on her turn, the light of the lantern flashed into a cell she had thought was empty. She saw now how wrong she had been, a tiny body huddled in the corner, head bowed down to rest on it’s knees.
“Merciful heavens…” She pressed a hand to her mouth, horrified to see fiction become fact. The only saving grace was that the child was alone in it’s cell, for Adaline knew that even among the Drules there existed predators who lusted after children’s flesh.
She drew closer to the cell, hands gripping the bars, but even her tremors could not rattle the gate. The child didn’t even look up at her approach, sitting there staring at the floor, not even having enough sense to cower from the many sounds of the excited dungeon dwellers.
“How long…” whispered Adaline, hearing her escort make a questioning sound. “How long has this child been here?”
“Eh….about three or four days.” Adaline reeled back from the horror of the notion, but didn’t take her eyes off the meek figure in the cell. She quickly estimated the child must have spent a week in captivity, what with the amount of time it would take for a ship to travel between Doom and Arus. ”
“Open the gate.” She was pleased her voice did not waver, Adaline sounding commanding in her anger.
“You heard me. Open the gate.” She whirled around to glare at him, ready to snatch the keys off his belt. He stared back at her, then sighed, moving to open the gate. She immediately stepped inside the cramped cell, fighting back fears that her escort would lock her inside. But the gate remained open, Adaline withholding a relieved sigh. Instead she knelt down on the grimy dirt floor, not caring that the skirts of her fine dress got dirty.
“Hey there little one…” She crooned softly, looking at the child. No reaction, not even when Adaline began an awkward crab walk towards the child. She ended up in touching distance, and still no response, Adaline fearing the worst. Was the child dead? But no, she could see the slight movement of the child’s chest, given rise to breathing.
“Careful my lady..that one was a little hellion when we first brought her in.” warned her escort, and Adaline’s brows rose.
“Her?” She hadn’t put a gender to the child, hadn’t thought beyond seeing her. Now she reached out with a steady hand, touching the child on the shoulder. The child actually shivered, and Adaline brought her hand to the tangled mane of hair, noting it was an odd reddish brown color. She realized with a start it was dried blood that coated the girl’s hair, flakes of it shaking off at Adaline’s touch.
When she tried to force the child to lift her head, she heard a low whimper, her heart breaking to hear the sound. “Oh sweetie…” She murmured softly. still trying to get the child to look at her. “What did they do to you?”
It happened in an instant, the head lifting, Adaline catching sight of a blue that rivaled her own eyes in brilliance. But they weren’t really seeing anything, the child, which she realized with a start really was a girl, began screaming. It was the most horrible of screeching, high pitch and hurting Adaline’s ears, though she didn’t shout back at the girl.
She couldn’t say the same for her escort, the man rushing into the cell, shouting angrily at the child. “Be quiet you brat!”
“She doesn’t understand!” Adaline hissed, realizing the girl most likely didn’t understand the Drule language. The guard continued to shout, and raised a threatening hand towards the girl, Adaline watching as she became even more distressed. “You’re only scaring her.” She chided, then switched to Arusian, cooing softly to the little girl. “It’ll be okay little one…”
She continued to scream, and Adaline grabbed her by the arms, pulling her onto her lap. The child began thrashing about, panicked beyond belief, her breath catching in her throat as she began to hyperventilate. Adaline wrapped her arms around the girl, struggling to hold onto her, and began rocking back and forth. She sang softly, a half forgotten Arusian lullaby.
Somehow her song got through to the girl where words would not, the girl ceasing her thrashing. She all but went limp, slumping against Adaline’s chest, her screams dying down to listen to her singing. Adaline hugged her with one arm, the other moving, the woman running a hand through her hair, searching for bumps on the head. Thankfully there didn’t seem to be any, leaving Adaline puzzled as to the cause of the blood in the girl’s hair.
“There there little one…” Adaline whispered in between words of her song. “It’s all right now. You’re safe now.” She knew she shouldn’t be making promises, but she’d be damned if she’d leave this girl traumatized and alone in the dungeons.
“Safe?” The girl’s voice was hoarse from screaming, but she pulled back to look at Adaline. A thin sliver of hope as in her eyes, and Adaline smiled to see it. The girl seemed to react to her smile, reaching up with grimy hands to trace the curve of Adaline’s mouth. “Safe…”
“Yes…” Adaline hugged her once more, the girl weakly clinging to her dress. She rose to stand, and the escort gaped at her, starting to issue out a protest.
“You can’t leave with her!”
Like so many of the men in her husband’s employ, she ignored him, striding out of the cell. The girl hid her head against her neck, shivering violently as Adaline carried her through the dungeon. The voices started again, not even the sight of the child she carried could quell them. Adaline was grateful the child didn’t understand Drule, knowing such a young soul should not bear witness to such foul language.
The escort actually ran past her, hurrying to reach the dungeon master before her. By the time she arrived at the main gate, the subordinate had breathlessly filled the dungeon master in on what had occurred.
“Lady Adaline, you can’t be serious.” The dungeon master was moving to intercept her, but Adaline’s steps did not falter. “What will the king think?” She knew he would be displeased, and for one instant her hesitation showed, enough of it for th dungeon master to seize upon it. “He’ll most likely throw you in a cell for this act of defiance.”
She glared at the large Drule, her tone chilled with frost. “We shall see about that!” Her very being was that of a woman who would have her way, and she knew the dungeon master must think her crazy, risking her freedom and well being over a child that was not hers.
“Lady Adaline, be reasonable. You already have a son…what good is that girl?”
“That you cannot see the value in saving a child shows you will never understand my motivations.” She retorted, then narrowed her eyes at the Drule. “Now get out of my way.”
“Very well.” The dungeon master said, and his tone seemed to imply he thought she was arranging her own funeral. He moved aside, and she stepped through the gate, spying the guard who had followed her to the dungeon. He looked startled to see the girl Adaline clutched to her bosom, and Adaline gave a haughty toss of her head. ”
“Go report to your master like the faithful lap dog you are.” She didn’t wait for him to move, stalking up the staircase, her one hand rubbing the girl’s back. The girl hadn’t made a sound in response to the anger around her, once again causing Adaline to worry. Had the child become addled brained?
Soon she was at the top of the stairs, servants and nobles gaping at her and the child. She ignored them, and marched through the corridors until she reached more familiar halls. Soon her path took her to her private chambers, the rooms adjoining Zarkon’s, but separate enough to give her the illusion of having some privacy. She was grateful he had stopped insisting she spend every night in his bed, Adaline not able to tolerate too much of his affection.
She used her hip to push open the door to her bedroom, spying slaves cleaning up the room. “Leave us.” She ordered, and though the slaves exchanged a look, they nodded and hurried out. But not before bowing to her, a mockery considering Adaline felt she was as much as slave as they were.
She entered the spacious bathroom that came with her chambers, flicking on the overhead light. She walked towards the ivory colored bench, setting the little girl down on it. It was difficult to peel her from her arms, the girl whimpering and clutching harder at her dress. But little by little, her fingers were pried free, Adaline kneeling before her, smoothing her hands through the discolored hair. Once again she was taken by the bold blue color of the girl’s eyes, Adaline smiling at her. The little girl just blinked back, too tortured by her ordeal to risk a smile at her savior.
“Can you tell me your name sweetie?” Adaline asked, and only silence was her answer. She kept the smile on her face, not wanting to upset the girl with a frown. “How about how old you are? Do you know your age?” Nothing, not even when Adaline began counting out numbers on her fingers. She held back her sigh, and looked at the girl’s torn and bloody clothes.
“What happened to you?” Adaline wondered out loud, and began removing the girl’s ruined clothing. No resistance from the child, the girl not fighting her, just looking forward with that unnerving stare.
Once stripped of all her clothing, Adaline raked her eyes over the girls’ body, trying to find a source for the blood. But she could find not cuts, no gaping wounds, only a few bruises. The bruises angered her anew, Adaline wishing she knew who had caused them. Though a helpless feeling let her know she wouldn’t have been able to take
revenge for the girl.
Troubled, she stood and walked over to the large bathtub, running the water so it was a pleasant mixture of hot and cold. She then lifted the girl into her arms, and carried her to the tub. She half wondered if there would be a fight, Adaline knowing her own son hated his baths. But the girl was an angel, sinking down into the water. Adaline set about to scrubbing her with soaps and shampoo, and the dirt and grime left her face and body, revealing sun kissed skin. The girl’s tan had yet to fade, even after a week of Doom captivity.
The hair was the most surprising reveal of all, the blood scattering away to reveal locks so golden that rivaled the coins in Zarkon’s treasury. Adaline smiled at her, running her fingers through her wet hair, then lifted the girl out of the tub. She wrapped her in a big fluffy towel, and set about to combing the tangles out of her hair. Almost unnoticed was the door opening to the bathroom, a petulant voice calling out to her.
“Mommy….?” She turned and spied Lotor, his eyes staring at the what she was doing. “What is that?”
“She’s not a what, she’s a who.” Adaline said cheerfully, continuing to work on a particularly fierce tangle.
“A who?” He cocked his head curiously, studying the girl who still had that lost, vacant stare in her eyes. “She looks like a doll.” Adaline paused, glancing at Allura. With her still movements, and unwavering stare added to her very pretty for a child’s looks, she very much did resemble a doll. “What’s her name?”
“She hasn’t told me that yet.” Adaline admitted, watching as Lotor crept closer to the girl.
“HI!” he said brightly, sticking a hand in her face. “I’m Crown Prince Lotor. Who are you?” He frowned when he got no answer, then began waving his hand wildly before her face. She barely even flinched, Lotor’s eyes narrowing. “She’s boring!” he announced, slumping next to Adaline on the ivory bench.
“She’s just a little tired.” Adaline explained. “She’s been through a lot.”
“Oh…” Lotor seemed to consider that for a moment. “Like what?”
Adaline hesitated, knowing she couldn’t begin to explain the horrors the girl had been through just by staying in that dungeon. “Never you mind.” She said at last, causing Lotor to let loose with his infamous pout. She was immune to that expression of his, her brush finally freeing the last of the tangles through the girl’s hair.
Her son looked frustrated that his pout wasn’t having the intended effect, the boy casting his eyes around the bathroom. He noticed the tub, and wrinkled his nose, commenting on it’s dirty state.
“That’s what happens when you go too long without a bath.” Adaline said, wondering if he would remember that and not fight her over bathing the next time.
“Oh.” He still seemed sullen, peeking glances at the little girl. “Why is she here?”
Adaline blinked, considering her words carefully. “She’s going to be staying with us for a little while…”
“Oh…like a pet?!” He asked brightly, and Adaline shook her head no.
“No a guest. Like a friend.”
“A friend?” This time he looked puzzled, the word an alien concept to him. Adaline was well aware of the fact that her son had no friends, the children of the servants and slaves being deemed unsuitable for the crown prince to associate with.
“Someone to play with. Someone to tell stories with. Someone to share secrets with. It will be a lot of fun.” Adaline added, though Lotor looked unconvinced.
“I have mommy for that…” Lotor said, and Adaline nodded.
“And you always will have me around.” She promised. “But you must get lonely when mommy is busy. This girl will be your friend, and chase away your loneliness.”
The bathroom door suddenly slammed into the wall, Adaline and her son jumping in fright. Her husband, the great demon king Zarkon stood in the doorway, gold eyes gleaming fiercely as he stared at Adaline and the child on her lap.